Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing Releases Results of Amazon Alexa Pilot Project in San Diego Retirement Community

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Study shows how voice services and home automation technology impact the wellbeing of older adults

GLENDALE, Calif. March 22, 2018 – The Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing (FPCIW) recently announced the results of its six-month Amazon Alexa pilot with residents at San Diego’s Carlsbad By The Sea (CBTS), a Front Porch retirement community. The pilot demonstrates the potential benefits of applications and technologies controlled primarily by speaking, known as “Voice First” technologies, specifically for older adults.

“The Amazon Alexa pilot was an enormous success as it promoted an increase in independence and engagement among residents,” said Davis Park, director of the FPCIW. “The value of Voice First technologies such as Amazon Alexa to address the needs of older adults is clear from the pilot’s results.”

Launched in February 2017, the Amazon Alexa pilot started with 15 homes and aimed to better understand how voice assistance and home automation technology may help promote greater convenience, independence and wellbeing in the lives of older adults. FPCIW designed the pilot based on initial focus group feedback and interest in Amazon Alexa and other “Voice First” technology from CBTS’s community residents and their technology committee.

The retirement community resident responses to the post-pilot surveys reflected high satisfaction and engagement levels in using Amazon Alexa:

  • 75% used their smart devices at least once a day
  • 100% of respondents felt their device overall helped make life easier
  • 71.43% felt more connected to family, friends and the community than before the start of the Alexa pilot
  • 82% reported that using a smart plug/lamp with Alexa was “very easy”

Amazon Alexa is a cloud-based voice service that powers devices like the Amazon Echo. Alexa is always getting smarter, both for features, and for natural language understanding and accuracy. Amazon Alexa performs a wide range of functions such as playing music, controlling smart home devices, calling and messaging, providing news and weather updates as well as managing daily reminders, timers or alarms.

One objective of the pilot sought to determine whether Alexa devices facilitate effective and convenient solutions to help staff, family members, and caregivers provide better care and improve communication with older adults. FPCIW worked with Ask Marvee, a care companion Alexa Skill that allows a user to “check in” and send a message to a relative or loved one. Residents also frequently used their devices to message one another and keep in touch with family members.

During the six-month pilot, the FPCIW organized twice a month “Alexa 101” workshops for residents and Alexa trainings for CBTS staff and caregivers to understand and utilize Amazon Alexa. Older adults, ranging in age from 79 to 100 years old, provided their feedback across three group sessions. These sessions produced a dialogue of older adults’ valuable questions, comments and suggestions. Surveys were also distributed to residents that demonstrated the impact of Voice First technology and its capabilities.

To purchase Amazon Echo Dot devices for residents interested in participating in the pilot, Executive Director Joan Johnson and CBTS resident Technology Committee Chairman John Sanders fundraised for donations in Phase One of the pilot. These Echo Dot devices were then installed in 12 resident homes, with residents and staff receiving training on using Amazon Alexa. The CBTS Technology Committee played a key role in overseeing the installation of the Echo Dot devices for the residents, provided troubleshooting and technical assistance to the users as well as helped expand the adoption of the technology to 90 homes in the community.

According to surveys collected after Phase One, the following top uses of the devices were:

  • Weather and temperature (87%)
  • Alarm and timers (53%)
  • Music, date, and time (40%)
  • News (27%)
  • Search information (20%)

Open-ended responses from participants included the following:

  • “The workshops have been very helpful and have encouraged me to find new ways to use Alexa and try new skills. I feel more confident because of the workshops.”
  • “So much fun! [Alexa] opens up many new thoughts about improving the way we use technology on a daily basis.”
  • “I have a genetic tremor, so entering data is a pain. The ability to speak a command and get something to happen is a wonderful thing.”
  • “To look at it from a human standpoint, what do we use to get messages across, to communicate? – it’s our voice. Yes, we have learned to write, how to type, how to use a computer, but voice is the first and will be there forever, and that’s what Alexa offers us – it’s a natural thing.”

Phase Two began in June 2017 and introduced smart home integration including house lights, thermostats and appliances connected to a smart outlet.

“The lessons, adoption program and engagement strategies emerging from this pilot project will help inform future deployments of Amazon Alexa and Voice First technologies to other Front Porch communities and beyond,” said Kari Olson, chief innovation and technology officer, Front Porch, and president, FPCIW.

Besides expanding the Amazon Alexa pilot to additional Front Porch communities, other future FPCIW Voice First technology initiatives include planning a “Possibilities Room” at the Villa Gardens Health Center in Pasadena, Calif., where they will be testing a variety of Voice First and smart home technologies to demonstrate potential opportunities for further investigation.

As an outcome of the pilot’s findings, FPCIW believes that given appropriate program design, community participation and leadership involvement, Voice First solutions such as Amazon Alexa have tremendous potential in facilitating the independence and wellbeing of older adults.