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Voice technology opens doors for the visually and hearing impaired

With the growth of visual and hearing impairments among senior citizens (65 or older), senior living communities recognize the need to expand their services to accommodate and support residents with these impairments. Over 6.5 million American seniors are severely visually impaired—a number expected to double by 2030.1

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the prevalence of blindness and vision impairment increases rapidly with age among all groups, particularly in people over 75.2 Disabling hearing loss affects nearly 25% of those aged 65 to 74 and 50% of those 75 and older.3

Both impairments can deeply affect quality of life. Vision loss has been associated with a higher prevalence of chronic health conditions, falls and injuries, depression, social isolation, and death.1 Seniors with hearing loss may not understand medical advice, respond to warnings, or hear phones, doorbells, or smoke alarms. It may also be harder to enjoy talking with family and friends, leading to feelings of isolation.4

To minimize the negative impact on quality of life for these seniors, senior living communities must spend more time and effort keeping impaired residents informed and engaged—or simply performing wellness check-ins.

The role of voice technology

More senior living communities are turning to the latest voice technology innovations to help them address some of the challenges to supporting their visually and hearing impaired residents.

Voice-activated virtual assistants, such as Amazon Alexa, Google, and Apple’s Siri, are opening new possibilities for the visually and hearing impaired. These virtual assistants use speech recognition along with advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence—technologies that allow them to improve over time. They are designed to be used with devices such as the Amazon Echo (the market leader at 72% share in the U.S.5) and the Google Home—smart speakers with built-in microphones that allow two-way communication with the virtual assistants.

These are powerful tools that help many seniors lead more independent, engaged lives. With a simple, easy-to-remember voice command, visually impaired seniors can use their smart device to listen to their daily schedule of activities, meal specials, and medication and care plans. With the same voice command, home devices with smart displays can present the same information in easy-to-read text for seniors with hearing impairments.

Seniors can also use this voice technology to request staff for housekeeping or facility needs, or when there’s been an accident in their apartment. This augments their current emergency alert system.

Communities are seeing results from voice technology

Senior living communities already taking advantage of voice technology innovations are seeing real results. Voice technology solutions can directly or indirectly lead to valuable benefits for seniors:

  • improved wellness and safety
  • a stronger sense of independence
  • increased engagement with their community
  • overall greater enjoyment of community life

Community management professionals also report that these solutions can lead to overall benefits:

  • increased staff productivity
  • increased senior and family satisfaction
  • strengthened differentiation during prospect tours

Recently, Arbor Terrace at Hamilton Mill, a senior living community in Georgia, implemented an Amazon Alexa–enabled voice technology solution. They found that residents love the ability to ask Alexa what’s happening at the community or what’s on the menu for an upcoming meal.

Leisure Care, which operates a number of senior living communities across the country, tested a similar solution in a select number of communities. “We immediately knew it would be valuable for our residents and their families,” said Clint Fowler, Corporate Guest Services Director. “By extending our ability to help our residents stay active and engaged, it will undoubtedly improve the quality of their lives.” Leisure Care is now rolling out the solution to all of their communities.

Sales of smart speakers in 2018 grew 78% to over 118 million units in the U.S.5 Clearly, voice technology innovations are changing more lives every day. Senior living community managers should investigate this innovative technology to see whether it could better address the health, wellness, and safety of their residents.
 

Footnotes:

  1. American Federation for the Blind (AFB), http://www.afb.org/section.aspx?SectionID=68&TopicID=320&DocumentID=3374 [accessed on 3.18.19]
     
  2. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), https://www.cdc.gov/visionhealth/pdf/vision_brief.pdf [accessed on 3.18.19]
     
  3. National Institute on Deafness and other Communications Disorders (NIDCD), https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/quick-statistics-hearing [accessed on 3.18.19]
     
  4. NIDCD—Age Related Hearing Loss Q&A, https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/age-related-hearing-loss [accessed on 3.18.19]
     
  5. VoiceBot Smart Speaker Consumer Adoption Report—January 2019, https://voicebot.ai/amazon-echo-alexa-stats/#new%20us-smart-speaker-users-in-2018 [accessed on 3.19.19]
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