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Using Alexa to connect with care home residents 

Want to keep in touch with a loved one in a care home without further burdening the overworked staff there? Tina English of Embracing Age shares a new development  

AlexaA chance conversation with a Baptist minister in a zoom meeting last year sparked an idea. She told us how she ministered to Margaret, a member of her congregation, who is currently in a care home, using an Alexa device to “drop in”.

If that sounds like double dutch, let me explain. An Alexa device is voice assisted technology, developed by Amazon, that has a “drop in” command, enabling two people to chat, anywhere in the world.

“Why not just use the phone?”, I hear you ask.

Well, in this particular situation, which is not uncommon amongst care home residents, Margaret is blind and has slight dementia, so that she can not use a phone without assistance. In busy care homes staff have limited time to supervise phone and video calls.

But once an Alexa device has been set up, no assistance is needed, as the resident does not need to answer the phone. Margaret’s family had been frustrated about not being able to chat with her as often as they liked, so with permission and help from the care home they set up the Alexa device and gave permission to certain people to access it.

The caller, in this case Liz, a Baptist minister, simply uses their smart phone app or their own Alexa device, and commands Alexa to “drop in” on the resident they wish to chat with, in this situation it was Margaret. This command activates the Alexa device in Margaret’s room and without doing anything, she hears the minister say, “Hello Margaret, it’s Liz calling on the Alexa phone”.

It’s not really a phone – more a speaker, but since Margaret has dementia it’s much more understandable to her to simply call it the Alexa phone. Liz is then able to chat, pray and read scripture to Margaret. For more on this, see Liz's story below. 

When we heard about this last year we were delighted and intrigued. Embracing Age is an organisation that seeks to address the loneliness of care home residents and we could see this idea had so much potential. We have seen first hand the heartbreak and distress experienced by the relatives of care home residents who have been restricted from visiting during the pandemic.

We’re also aware how time consuming it is for care home staff to supervise video calls, in a season when they are under a lot of pressure. So we set up a successful crowd funding campaign to raise money to buy Alexa devices, and put together all the instructions on how to set one up.

We are keen to now freely distribute these far and wide. If you know of people who have a loved one in a care home who might benefit, then please do encourage them to get in touch. They may need a little help to get started with the new technology, and this is a great opportunity for the church to come alongside and support them, using the instructions we have provided.

For more information, visit carehomefriends.org.uk/alexa or email sarah@embracingage.org.uk 

Tina English is director of Embracing Age


'It is a brilliant way of reaching people' - by Liz Connelly

I am the pastor of a small church in Barlestone, Leicestershire. One of our members had a fall, and following some time in hospital, was discharged to a residential home. Then Covid happened. 

I received a contact from her family telling me that they had found a way of keeping in touch with her which to me was ingenious. Margaret suffered with macular degeneration and mild dementia, so would struggle with using a telephone without assistance. 

When she was in hospital, it was only possible to speak by ringing the ward so a nurse could go to her, then ring her mobile so the nurse could answer and help Margaret. In the home, Margaret's family had an Alexa put into her room with the agreement of the home. Set times were agreed when friends and family knew it would be online and contact could take place.

The family were able to give permission to selected people to access Margaret's device, and they explained to me what I needed to do to connect. I used the Alexa app on my mobile phone. By accessing the app, and clicking on the communication and drop in function, I was able to connect, and speak to her. 

She didn't have to do anything apart from respond to my voice. The family were also able to use it to stream music and selected material at set times. 

I would contact Margaret on a Sunday and share with her some of the material from our Sunday service - readings, prayers. We would say the Lord's prayer together, and she really appreciated it. We would also have a bit of a chat. I would usually say 'Hello Margaret, it's Liz from the church.' She would hear this disembodied voice!! 

Sometimes I would call and get no response, which would mean Margaret may be asleep or out of the room, but then it was easy to try again. 

It is a brilliant way of reaching people not just in a home, but in their own home if set up. It would be of use at any time for someone who is isolated. 

Image | Care home resident Ros with her Alexa

Baptist Times, 09/01/2021
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