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Voice and AI – Better Together for Older Adults – New Report

Voice assistants made device hardware actually seem smart. By 2018, more technology (and associated improvements) could be found in the Cloud. Besides these invisible upgrades, the voice assistant technology has been continually improving – and if the user could be made aware of those improvements (a BIG IF), they might find them to be very useful. Consider voice-enabled smart plugs, thermostats, audio books, traffic directions, weather, and news updates – and answers to questions that might matter about health, social connection, and personal safety. Today 95 million US adults have smart speakers and 85% of US adults own a smartphone. Both platforms are now in position to deliver value and benefit to older users -- and thus the opportunity to speak and be heard.

Use cases have proven valuable for seniors. These included daily check-ins, medication reminders, “drop in” for hands free video calling, or calling out for help in an emergency. These ideas became part of Amazon’s growing number of offerings for older adults. They include Alexa Together, and also expanded their Alexa for Hospitality suite of offerings. As the number of users of smart displays grows and smartphone use by older adults continues to increase, the number of voice-only experiences may decline, replaced with multiple options – voice, smart display and the ubiquitous chatbot -- coming soon to a customer service experience near you.

The future: Voice assistants will help mitigate growing social isolation of the oldest. A voice heard in a house of an older person living alone cuts through the silence, even if it is a conversation with a device. Today, one-third of adults aged 65+ live alone. That means they likely eat meals alone, and in particular are alone in the evening and during bad weather. And the percentage living alone increases as people reach their 80s – 58% of older adults aged 80+ live alone now.

The future: Broadband, voice, and AI are mission critical for senior living. The senior living industry is challenged in 2022 to ramp up occupancy back to its pre-pandemic levels. As a result, they may not be focused on enabling resident broadband in their communities. But very soon organizations in competitive markets will see that infrastructure for voice-enablement (concierge, reminders, monitoring, fall detection) is a differentiator. It will particularly matter for prospective move-ins to independent living settings, setting the stage for a tech concierge service to help novice users. Voice services will support a resident as they age in the community.

AI will be applied to improving wellbeing in old age. Pendants are obsolete, replaced by smartwatches and Wi-Fi enabled motion fall detection capabilities – underpinned with AI from firms like Origin Wireless or Caspar.ai. Recommendations based on the history of a user’s conversations will be accepted and standard. New features will be offered based on utilization of existing capabilities (music, recipes, trips, books, advice). Comparisons between an individual’s status and the general population will be made prior to a suggestion about health, activity, and engagement. The more profile information available and securely store, the better the experience.

[See The State of Voice-AI and Older Adults 2022 published June, 2022]

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