Voice recognition devices for the home could help to combat loneliness for vulnerable elderly people, the clinical advisor to Public Health England has said.
Prof Sir Muir Gray claims that virtual digital helpers, like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant, could help pensioners stave off feelings of isolation.
High tech companies are currently pouring millions of pounds into developing voice-controlled smart speakers, such as Amazon Echo and Google Home, in the belief that the limited two-way conversations that they can hold will soon become more complex and life-like.
Amazon and Google are currently vying to produce the best smart speakers and assistants in the hope of dominating the booming market. Meanwhile, Apple has produced the HomePod, and Microsoft and Samsung are together developing a speaker for the digital assistant Cortana.
Referring to how such gadgetry is increasingly being used as in-house personal trainers, Prof Gray said: “There’s significant potential here for older adults in particular, who often need extra encouragement to be active and would benefit from hearing another voice to help prevent feelings of loneliness and isolation.”
He said the devices, which proved popular gifts this Christmas, were an ideal way to encourage older people to take exercise, with daily reminders and hints to prevent a slide into inactivity and frailty.
He added: “Voice recognition devices have huge potential to get people being more active at home. They might seem like a novelty Christmas present at the moment, but for many people, it’s just the sort of encouragement they need to keep on their feet maintaining healthy habits.
“The devices can serve as a sort of virtual personal trainer, guiding mini workouts in the home as well as offering suggestions for physical activity options in their local town.”
Amazon’s Echo, which launched in 2014, is now capable of answering questions, playing music, setting timers and controlling other tablet or smartphone devices. The price of the devices has also fallen dramatically in recent months.
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