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
- 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
- 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!”
- 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?
Thanks to Chandesh Parekh for input and guidance.