Patient emerging of purpose to uplift a community

For the first decade of my life, I grew up in Wealdstone, an area of Harrow that has since significantly changed over the years. With some spare time this afternoon, I visited Wealdstone and sat on a public bench opposite the Holy Trinity Church, a building I was always intrigued by when I was a young boy.

As I sat, alone on the bench with a hot coffee in my hand, keeping my backpack close next to me, I recollected the times growing up in the area, the trip to the local bakery or the bank or the shoe shop with my mum and brother. I remembered going to the park, accompanied by my dad who taught my brother and I how to ride a bike.

As I continued to sit this afternoon, on World Mental Health Day, I observed the local community, some on their way back home from a long day at work, mothers and their children walking home from their after-school activities, others humming while cycling, or those walking while engrossed in their phone screens.

I also witnessed young men subtly exchanging what looked like small brown packets and bank notes. I noticed other young men, sipping on a can of beer concealed by a plastic bag. I saw elderly men, some sitting alone, appearing so lonely, talking to themselves. I saw other elderly men in groups, prising open a bottle of whisky and twisting open a bottle of water to dilute the whisky (thereby making the drink last that much longer).

Witnessing all this loneliness, this lack of purpose, this need to numb their pain through alcohol or drugs of some sort, made me feel very sad. In some ways, I wanted to help them out of their suffering and in other ways, I wanted to just let them be.

Looking closer, I noticed something beyond the sadness, beyond the loneliness, beyond the pain. I noticed that majestic spirit, trapped, concealed, enslaved, but still there. It was present in the everlasting beyond the transient. It came through in the way the man sitting alone tapped his legs on the paving on the ground. It showed clearly in the way the group of men engaged with each other. It was apparent through the interactions, through the gestures, through the eyes, through each breath.

It’s in that moment that I felt a sense of calm, a sense that the town I grew up in, has perhaps not degraded in the way I first thought, as it still houses the very spirit that has the potential to uplift the entire community. In that moment, I witnessed hope, joy, wisdom and a sense of purpose, eagerly seeking to emerge.

Google Home – the hands-free smart speaker assistant for the elderly

Google Home Google Home, the hands-free smart speaker alternative to Amazon Echo, offers great potential to assist older people in their homes, particularly for those with visual impairments, who find it difficult to move, or who struggle with touchscreen devices.

While not hugely different to using a smartphone and initiating Google Assistant by saying “OK Google…”, older people can benefit from a digital personal assistant in the space in their home that they use the most – typically their living room.

Uses of Google Home for older people

Here are ways in which Google Home can be used by the elderly now or in the very near future. Some of these work with Google Home out of the box, while others require integration with other connected and smart devices as well as other services.

Controlling the home (via connected devices):

  • turn on, off, or dim lights
  • change the temperature in the room or the entire home
  • lock and unlock windows and doors
  • open and close windows and doors
  • set the home security alarm

Everyday reminders:

  • add items to a shopping list
  • review the shopping list
  • set an appointment reminder
  • set a reminder to take medication

Searching for answers (Google’s forté!):

  • the weather – today or a later date
  • key facts about a particular person, location, etc.
  • local vegetarian food delivery
  • public transport – e.g. next bus from home to the shopping centre

Communication:

  • make a phone call
  • send a text message or email
  • start a Skype video call through the TV
  • book a taxi

Entertainment (some via connected devices):

  • play music on Spotify – a specific song, a playlist or a genre
  • play a YouTube video on TV
  • stream a Netflix show to the TV
  • “tell me a joke!”

Do shopping:

  • research items to buy
  • place an order

Benefits of Google Home for older people

The far-field microphones allow voice commands to be picked up from across a room.

Google Home (powered by Google Assitant) can follow your use of pronouns and remember the context for follow-up questions. E.g. “Who is the Queen of England?” and then ask “How old is she?” – Home will know you’re talking about the Queen’s age.

For the visually impaired who can still move comfortably, Google Home has a touch-sensitive top panel allowing the user to swipe gestures to change volume, play and pause music and active Assitant’s listening mode.

Alternatives to Google Home

  • Amazon Echo – allows for a more natural to-and-fro conversation rather than commencing every interaction with the “OK Google” or “Hey Google” wake words.
  • Google Assistant on a smartphone – simply install the app and start using it.

Watch-outs with Google Home and other voice-controlled devices for older people

As information is processed online, information needs to be captured and sent through to Google. Understandably, people don’t like Google always listening to their household. So in an effort to alleviate any privacy concerns, Google has promised it’s not constantly recording you. Home even includes a mute button that completely turns off the listening feature. Google also allows you to take a look at all the data Home sends back and forth (go to myactivity.google.com).

It is possible that Google Home is activated unintentionally, so enabling the mute button turns off the listening feature to minimise this risk. It is also possible that Home misunderstands the request – for example, messaging the wrong person – but it is always learning and adapting to serve the user better. At times, with additional background sounds, it will be difficult for Home to hear the next command, meaning that the user cannot easily stop the music or movie from playing.

The concern with these issues is that the older person, especially one who is anxious about using technology in this new way, might end up getting frustrated at losing control, vowing to never use devices such as this. It is important, therefore, that the one who is setting the device up for them patiently provides adequate training and provides resources for how to learn more, or how to address any issues that might arise.

Should I buy a Google Home device for an older person?

Retailing at £129 but currently available for under £100, this makes it a relatively affordable life-enhancing product. Truly understanding the user’s needs, connecting Google Home up to their other smart devices and patiently providing the right amount of training and resources, the older person will be grateful for being able to live independently and connect better with their family and friends.

Would you set up Google Home for your elderly relative or neighbour?

Photo credit: Image by Next Day Blinds via Flickr

Thanks to Chandesh Parekh for input and guidance.