A Victoria-based retirement community is doing a pilot project with the Amazon product Alexa to see if it helps keep seniors engaged.  (iStock photo)

A Victoria-based retirement community is doing a pilot project with the Amazon product Alexa to see if it helps keep seniors engaged. (iStock photo)

Victoria-based seniors home uses Amazon product Alexa in pilot project

Physical touch is irreplaceable, but Amir Hemani wants to figure out how to bridge the gap

Having a sense of purpose every day is important for everyone.

Amir Hemani is the chief operations officer of Berwick Retirement Communities, Vancouver Island-based retirement homes with locations across B.C. Hemani advocates for seniors and their best interests, and looks for new technological trends to help them with challenges they face.

He is also part of the Aging 2.0 Vancouver Chapter which helps keep his finger on the pulse for the latest technology and best practices of innovations for seniors.

Hemani said Berwick has been testing Alexa, the Amazon product, to build purpose and help people stay engaged. For example, Alexa can be programmed to respond to a “good morning” prompt by turning the lights on half way, saying the date, time and the weather.

“The most important thing for a senior is a purpose to get up and do the day,” he said.

He noted most seniors are generally not fluent in technology and don’t own a laptop or an iPad, and some may be visually impaired, have cognitive issues, can’t read, or have reduced mobility, but Alexa is completely verbal and programmed for voice activated requests.

The company has done three months of testing with Alexa for one of their visually impaired residents in Victoria, putting Alexa in common areas of the facility. Hemani said if testing goes well for the pilot project in Victoria, Alexa would become a standard feature in every suite when people move in. It could be ready as soon as next spring to be used in the newest retirement community being built in Qualicum Beach.

Hemani said Alexa helps keeps seniors engaged and simplifies life.

“We onboard the residents to get into a suite, give them an orientation and demonstrate and lead them with it,” he said. “Program it [Alexa] to tell them what time to take their medication, what time is dinner, that’s the goal of what we hope will happen with the Qualicum Beach community.”

Hemani said while technology offers many benefits, there’s nothing that can fully replace receiving a hug from a loved one.

“Physical touch is hard to replace from a technology alternative,” he said. “It makes us want to stretch a little further to see how we can help. When things are reduced for our seniors, we need to find out how to bridge the gap.”

Sylvia Ceacero, CEO of B.C. Seniors Living Association, agrees that the social piece – keeping seniors connected is important.

“For all of us, socializing and networking has a direct influence on our health and well-being,” she said.

She noted for many seniors, income is fixed and they require economical ways to stay connected if they can’t or don’t drive.

Hemani said residents that stay in the Berwick communities independently book bus transportation services specifically for seniors or those with mobility challenges, mentioning from what he’s seen, it seems to be a good option for seniors on the Island.

“It’s pretty good, they know the clientele they cater to and accommodate impairments,” he said.


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