“Good morning, Alexa.”
“Good morning, Martha.”
Interacting with personal voice assistants such as Amazon’s Echo Dot, otherwise known as Alexa, can lessen loneliness in older Americans who live alone, according to a Nebraska study.
Loneliness – the perception of feeling disconnected – is so pervasive, especially among older people, that it’s considered an epidemic with public health implications.
“We tend to think of loneliness as not really a big deal,” said Valerie Jones, associate professor of advertising and public relations, who co-led the study. “But it’s related to higher rates of depression, self-harm, self-neglecting behavior and mortality, things that are a big deal. We wanted to know if a device like Alexa could be useful to older folks living alone, as a companion of sorts.”
To find out, an interdisciplinary research team trained 16 people over age 70 who live alone in an independent living facility to use an Echo Dot. Researchers monitored their interactions for two months.
Participants interacted with Alexa an average of 18 times a day the first month and 10 times the second month. Pre- and post-study surveys determined that their loneliness had decreased. The lonelier people were initially, the more likely they were to anthropomorphize the device, interacting with it like it’s a person, such as greeting it.
I wouldn’t be surprised if smart devices become standard in long-term living facilities in the next few years.Changmin Yan
The team recognizes the technology isn’t for everyone or a replacement for human interactions. But voice-assisted devices are an easy-to-use tool to reduce loneliness as well as improve care, such as providing medication reminders, said Changmin Yan, associate professor of advertising and public relations, who co-led the study.
“As smart devices become more popular, this is one method to help people manage the aging process,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if smart devices become standard in long-term living facilities in the next few years.”
The COVID-19 pandemic limited the number of participants, but the team has begun a larger study to identify ways to improve the experience through personalization.
Jones and Yan collaborated with researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and University of Nebraska at Omaha, through the College of Journalism and Mass Communication’s Consortium for Health Promotion and Translational Research. The study will be published in Frontiers in Public Health.
+ Additional content for Interacting with Voice Assistants Eases Loneliness
Media mention: UNL research shows Amazon Alexa could help keep loneliness away (NTV News, 3/12/2021)
Media mention: Study shows Alexa can make home less lonely (KETV Omaha, 3/26/2021)