Debra Sheets, an associate professor in the University of Victoria School of Nursing, is running a study called Ease e-Home: Voice Assisted Smart Technologies, to research how older new audio command units can benefit adults with memory loss. Submitted

‘Alexa, what time is it?,’ seniors with memory loss needed for study

UVic associate professor leading study on how voice-assisted technology can help seniors

A local researcher wants to see how Alexa, the new voice activated technology from Amazon, can improve the quality of life for older adults with memory loss.

Debra Sheets, an associate professor in the University of Victoria School of Nursing, is leading the study called Ease e-Home: voice assisted smart technologies, to support older people with memory loss and their caregivers.

Sheets is an experienced researcher who is currently the lead on the Voices in Motion project. The choir partners high school students (from St. Andrew’s Regional School) with locals in the early or intermediate stages of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as their caregivers, to study effect of singing and socialization on those with dementia.

This newest initiative, Ease e-Home, studies the impact of voice assisted technology on smart devices and how it can improve quality of life by supporting increased social connections, well-being and daily living.

Alexa can also help seniors to manage their lives, setting reminders for medicine or appointments.

“It can read you a book, and we hope to hook up some plugs so people can turn lights on or off to create a smarter house,” Sheets said.

It will also use Echo Show, a display monitor.

“Hopefully, the participant can command the Alexa system to call the family member and have them show up on the video to chat,” Sheets said. “A really important part of this project is to increase social connections.”

One of the goals is to see if technologies can keep older adults in their homes longer, Sheets added.

“We’ll teach certain skills to seniors so they can order Alexa to text, email or call a family member when they need help. And they can ask Alexa, what day it is, what time it is, or to play music.”

Ideal participants are community dwelling adults from Greater Victoria aged 65-and-older, with mild to moderate memory loss, and who also have a willing family caregiver. The only electronic requirement is wireless home internet, a smart phone and an Amazon account (for the family caregiver).

Sheets will deliver Alexa and the Amazon Echo Show display monitor.

“It won’t be a complicated set-up, we’ll do it for the participants,” Sheets said. “I’ve been acquiring Echo Show devices which aren’t even available in Canada yet.”

Alexa would act as a communicating hub which the participants would learn to use. The study will also provide a SmartThings device as a hub to turn lights on and off, and possibly to monitor other things, such as the refrigerator. This allows the caregiver, such as a daughter or son, to monitor their parent from afar. If the caregiver can see if the refrigerator has been opened in the morning it’s a sign of normal behaviour.

It’s important to note that both the caregiver and care recipient must be willing to participate over a six month period but that the technology will be removed after four months to study the effect or dependence level (at the six month mark the caregiver and recipient could purchase the Amazon technologies).

Participating starts with an initial 45-minute assessment followed by surveys and qualitative interviews every two months. Care recipients must also be willing to participate in neuropsychological and cognitive and assessments every two months (which take about one hour and are done in the home).

Interested parties can contact Sheets at 250-853-3947 or dsheets@uvic.ca.

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