VOICE RECOGNITION INNOVATION AND THE IMPLICATIONS FOR SENIORS

Technology has grown in leaps and bounds since today’s seniors were children. For one, televisions weren’t nearly as prevalent, radio was the dominant broastcast form, and, of course, you couldn’t share your thoughts with the world on Facebook. Oh, and there were certainly no cell phones that could access all the world’s information.

Now, in their older ages, seniors can be taken care of far more efficiently and better than their parents or grandparents could, and it’s all because of the development of technology that has taken place from the end of the 20th century into the 21st century.

One area where this rings true is in voice recognition technology, which is now present on over one billion devices in America today. It’s a piece of technology that wasn’t even around before 1952, and there are now devices seniors can use to help them schedule their day, access information, set alarms for the prescription refills, and contact emergency services—all through using their voice.

Another area where technology has blossomed of late is artificial intelligence, which describes machines that can learn from their successes and mistakes. The intelligence is called “artificial” because it learns from algorithms (and not necessarily like humans do). We mention AI because voice recognition is a form of artificial intelligence.

Let’s dig into how these technologies has changed over time and how it helps seniors as they age.

How Voice Recognition Has Innovated Over Time

The roots of voice recognition go back to the 1950s when one of the first public displays of the technology occured at the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, Washington. The IBM Shoebox device, named after its similar size to an actual shoebox, could recognize digits zero through nine and 16 other words. The device basically acted as a calculator, because it was able to identify the number and a command to add, subtract, and display the total.

Over time, the technology of voice recognition expanded. Some common developments include:

  • Identifying commands via Bluetooth in cars like sending messages or making hands-free calls
  • Speech recognition systems over the phone that can identify words and phrases to help potentially handle a problem before a human does
  • Helping turn speech into text for people with speech and hearing disabilities on devices like phones and televisions
  • Helping document medical records as well as helping search for medical records in various systems (This can also apply to other fields with massive record bases, like law)

These voice recognition technologies have transformed into allowing devices to host “virtual assistants,” which can help seniors complete daily tasks, convey endless information, and basically be an assistant wherever the device is. A 2017 survey found that almost 36 million Americans will use a “voice-activated assistant device” at least one time in a month.

Some of the most popular voice recognition software in the 21st century are:

  • Siri: Siri is the virtual assistant created by Apple. It’s the most popular voice assistant devices, with more than 375 million users on more than 500 million devices worldwide. “She” is available on a range of different devices, which we’ll get into later. iPhones released from the year 2011 on have Siri available.
  • Google Assistant: Google’s voice assistant is available on more than 400 million devices. It debuted in 2016, almost five years after Siri, and is rapidly expanding, especially as the technology for voice recognition improves.
  • Alexa: Alexa is Amazon’s virtual assistant. Devices with the software “instantly connect to Alexa to play music, control your smart home, get information, news, weather, and more using just your voice,” according to the company.
  • Cortana: This assistant appears on Microsoft devices that are mostly confined to home-based systems larger than phones and tablets, like computers and laptops. While it’s the least popular of the four main virtual assistants as of mid-2018, it’s available now on more than 400 million devices.

All of these voice recognition programs can complete a varying number of tasks and convey information with different types of clarity and languages. Discovering which device may work for you is a process, but we’ll go more in-depth as to which software is on which devices\ later.

As noted, these virtual assistants are becoming increasingly important because they can help seniors in their daily activities, especially when they’re home alone.

These innovations in voice recognition aren’t limited to these assistants, either. Various devices that feature voice recognition technology have been developed that can help seniors in their home life, assisted care life, on the go, and more. We’ll dig into these innovations in a later section.

One of the primary advantages of voice recognition is that it can provide a voice and a reminder for seniors when no one is around. Seniors’ health can be at risk when there aren’t any nurses or caretakers nearby, especially if maladies like dementia or physical limitations have began to onset.

Some of these dangers include:

  • Falls: Falling is one of the top health risks seniors face in their everyday life, and it can happen in an instant with no warning. It can cause broken bones and joint pain that can lead to long hospital stays and years of physical therapy. In the worst cases, falls can be fatal, especially if it causes bleeding that isn’t addressed with help soon. About 25 percent of seniors fall at least once in a year, and more than 27,000 seniors die every year due to falls. Seniors can be immobile when they fall, and voice recognition software can be a life saver in these instances if it’s able to contact emergency services.
  • Forgetfulness: Seniors with memory loss and other cognitive issues who live alone can be a danger to themselves. They can potentially forget to take medications that help combat these cognitive issues, or they can forget about their daily routines, like cleaning up after themselves or when they turned on the oven. These can all result in fatal consequences. Voice recognition devices can help remind seniors what they’re doing by simply just asking, so long as they have the whereabouts to have the device remind them. Daily schedules can be uploaded to the devices and spoken aloud when it’s time to do certain tasks, which could help forgetful seniors keep in a healthy routine.
  • Isolation: More than 10 million seniors—almost one-fourth of the whole senior population—live alone. Isolation can come with a slew of risks, including a higher risk of depression (which can aid in the advancement of declining cognition), a higher risk of mortality, and an increased risk of developing alcoholism. These devices aren’t replacements for friends and family members, but the voice can help keep the mind sharp and remind seniors of social engagements they have planned. This can then help seniors avoid becoming completely isolated from society.

Voice recognition doesn’t only help ailing seniors or seniors in danger. There are other ways this advancement in technology can help seniors in their everyday life.

How Future Voice Recognition Can Help Seniors

Voice recognition can help millions of people in their everyday lives, helping them schedule certain events. These innovations can really help seniors thrive on another level, though.

Because of a decrease in cognition, memory, mobility, and other facets of life that may come with aging, seniors could be in better care with no one around than any time in history. Beyond helping with the more dire medical issues a senior is going through, voice recognition can simply help seniors complete daily activities at a quicker, more efficient rate.

Let’s take a look at some ways this new voice recognition software can impact the lives of seniors:

  • Aiding with prescriptions: While seniors make up less than 15 percent of the population, they are responsible for about one-third of all the prescriptions that get filled. The Centers for Disease Control reports that seniors ordered or provided nearly four billion prescriptions in 2015. The CDC also said one in every four seniors uses three or more prescriptions at one time. 
It can be difficult to take care of your medications, whether it’s getting them filled or remembering which ones to take and at what times. Voice recognition software can help you keep your prescription schedule in line. You can speak to these devices and get them to set up a schedule of when to take the prescriptions, and you can even start your day by asking which prescriptions you’ll need to take and when.
  • Helping complete simple tasks: One of the largest advantages of voice recognition software is how much easier they make already-simple tasks, which may get more difficult to complete as you age. With the potential for decreased cognition, memory, and physical abilities as you age, this software can help you make to-do lists, such as grocery shopping; remind you of events you have going on that day, like doctor’s appointments or visiting grandchildren; and control the temperature in your domicile, all by simply speaking into a smart device. This can be especially helpful for seniors who can’t move around easily.
  • In case of emergency: As we mentioned before, seniors falling and injuring themselves at home with no one around is a highly distressing situation. This is where voice recognition software can be a blessing. 
When you fall, you may not be able to move from the space that you injured yourself. If one of your voice recognition devices is within earshot, though, you could request a call for help, whether it’s from emergency services or a family member. This is especially helpful in retirement communities and nursing homes, where you can have a voice recognition software alert someone in the facility to come and help.
  • Security: Smart devices have recently developed the ability to lock and unlock with just the sound of your voice. This can help seniors who may have a tough time remembering passwords or have recently found they’re forgetting where they left things. 
This technology can also help with locking and unlocking your home. Devices can use your voice to tell that you are in front of the door in the event that you may have accidentally left keys inside or forgot your keys at another location. It also can help secure devices that you may worry caregivers could have easy access to.
  • Calling for assistance or help: You don’t need to save calling out for voice recognition software when you’re in dire need of them. They’re also useful when you simply need help or assistance with something. 
For example, if you’re driving on the road and want to make sure you’re headed in the right direction without having to look at your phone, you can call out to a device to update you on your whereabouts. If you need to make a quick call while on the road, you can request that, too.
This voice recognition software may be in a majority of cars soon enough, too, not just in handheld or stationary devices. Ford reports that they plan to have voice recognition in 90 percent of their cars by 2022. This call for help isn’t limited to cars, though. You can use it to call for help any time your hands are tied and are in need of swift assistance.
  • Updates on weather: This may seem like a simple one, but the weather plays a big part in our lives, especially when severe weather rolls into town, and seniors are at home alone. Voice recognition devices can keep seniors informed of the daily weather, which can affect how they go about their day. You can also request immediate updates when severe weather events like hurricanes, tornadoes, mudslides, and thunderstorms develop, helping to keep seniors safe.
  • Provides an easier way to use technology: With the rapid advancement in technology from the end of the 20th century to now, technology can become increasingly difficult to maneuver and keep up with as you age. Voice recognition softwares can become a quick fix to seniors’ technology struggles— or at least make them easier to use. 
Instead of having to go through a phone to schedule doctor’s appointments, social outings, medication schedules, and more, you can simply speak into a device and it will set an alarm for when you need to do all these things. 
Also, voice recognition software can speak back to you, so it can easily read an email or text message and relieve any potential eye strain. You can speak a message you want to respond with, too!
  • Budgeting: Taking care of your money and expenses gets even more difficult as you age, with medical bills piling up and new income (Social Security, retirement funds, etc.). Well, voice recognition software and devices can help out here, too. Various software can help remind you when you need to pay certain bills and how much you need to pay. There’s a possibility they can also help you pay for items and schedule automatic payments.

There is a wide range of ways voice recognition can help seniors, now let’s look at some devices seniors can use to get the job done.

Voice Recognition Devices Useful For Seniors

We’ve mentioned various updates in technology that can recognize the sound of your voice and respond to requests and conversation. But these pieces of technology come on a wide range of devices, which get sold at varying price points, like we discussed before.

When it comes to virtual assistants, these devices include:

  • Apple products with Siri: We’ll start with the voice recognition software that is available on the largest number of devices: Siri. It’s present on iPhones, iPads (Apple’s tablet), Mac computers, Apple TV, the Apple Watch (a watch that can connect to your phone and other Apple devices) and the HomePod, which is Apple’s home base system that will compete with other home-based systems we’ll discuss shortly. The company as a number of devices at varying price points to help fit your needs.
  • Microsoft products with Cortana: Cortana is primarily used on Windows-based computer systems that have the Windows 10 operating system or higher, and on Windows-based phone systems with Windows Mobile 10. Cortana will also be available through downloadable apps on other systems like Apple products.
    Amazon products: Amazon’s main voice recognition device is the home-based system Echo, which comes with its “virtual assistant” Alexa. There are a range of types of Echo devices you can purchase, like the Echo and the Echo Dot. These devices vary in size, how loud they can project Alexa’s voice, color, and price, so do you research to find out which Alexa-hosting device may be best for your situation.
  • Google products with Google Assistant: Google has a host of devices that come with the Google Assistant, such as phones and home-based devices. Some of the most popular devices include different variations of the Google Home (similar to the Echo), and phones like the Google Pixel and Samsung Galaxy.

All of the aforementioned devices can be connected to smart-home systems that may not have voice recognition software readily available.

To get more specific, there are products that feature voice recognition technology that that may be more directly related to assisting seniors and they include:

  • LifePod: Known as “the first, voice-activated, AI-powered virtual caregiver,” this device can remind seniors of their daily activities, stimulate conversation and activity with things like songs and quizzes, and can check in to make sure a senior is doing and feeling okay.
  • Pillo: This is a home-based device that combines a senior’s health needs with helping them properly take their medications. The device can dispense medications you need at certain times with the command of your voice, and they can also tell you the dietary makeup of things you want to eat.
  • Orbita: This company aims to introduce voice recognition to healthcare. The technologies this company creates can help “engage patients with user experiences that adapt to their needs, including intuitive, intelligent voice assistants based on Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant to inform, educate, and encourage,” according to the company’s website.
  • ElliQ: Similar to Pillo, this home-based device aims to engage seniors by communicating with them and helping them complete. This device can suggest activities for seniors to participate in, read their body language, allow family members to check in with their loved one, and more. Visit the company’s website to find out what else it can do.

Some of these products may not be developed by the companies that make the virtual assistants, but they feature the voice assistant themselves like Alexa or Cortana. This happens often, as other companies will enlist the help of the assistants to provide a voice to their technology.

For instance, here is a massive list of all the different types of devices Amazon’s Alexa is on. They range from lighting to cooling to automotive devices, and everything in between. This ability to place voice recognition software on third-party products expands this technology’s potential even more, with near-endless possibilities for what will be impacted next.

Many of these devices come with short trial periods, too, so there’s no harm in purchasing more than one device to figure out what it does, how it responds, and whether it really fits your budget.

Not every device is going to be useful for a senior, but there’s surely a device out there for every senior that can find a way to make their life easier. You may also have to factor in things like how hard of hearing you or a loved one is, or if their living situation allows it. Either way, the future of voice recognition is not only here, it’s here to help.

There are now devices seniors can use to help them schedule their day, access information, set alarms for the prescription refills, and contact emergency services.

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