A session at the recent LeadingAge Annual Meeting & EXPO shared the benefits of smart speakers—and how to implement them securely. HealthTech article "LeadingAge 2019: Weighing the Pros and Cons of Smart Speakers in Senior Living" shared findings from the meeting, held Oct. 27-30, 2019, in San Diego, CA. (Listen to the full HealthTech article.)
 
One recent implementation, with LeadingAge CAST Supporter Soundmind, is making older adults more independent and happier.
 
When 25 Amazon Echo Dot devices were installed at rehabilitation center The Birches at Trillium Woods, residents were able to easily find the answers to questions that employees normally would need to supply, such as the time for bingo or for appointments.
 
In addition, depression scores of older residents who used a smart speaker dropped by 44% over six months, Soundmind CEO and co-founder Erum Azeez Khan told HealthTech. Improved health can reduce workflow costs and positively impact reimbursements and revenue, she said.

Making Smart Speakers Secure

To allay security concerns, John DiMaggio, CAST Commissioner and co-founder and CEO of LeadingAge CAST Supporter BlueOrange Compliance, recommended strong security policies that protect patient privacy. These approaches include network segmentation; using only center-owned devices that can be configured by IT staff; using a platform that limits available skills; and training employees on best practices, such as checking to ensure a device’s microphone is off when entering a room, HealthTech reported.
 
Even though things like medication reminders are not subject to HIPAA, organizations should always treat smart speakers with care. See "Opportunities, and Risks, with New Smart Voice Technology in Senior Living," guidance from BlueOrange Compliance and CAST on policies, procedures, training, and monitoring of smart speakers and voice-controlled devices.
 
Both staff and residents should learn how to use the devices—and be aware of the security risks. The BlueOrange Compliance and LeadingAge CAST recommendations advise obtaining a signed agreement with the resident (and possibly the device manufacturer) that covers security measures and shared responsibilities among everyone in a care community.

Introducing Smart Speakers

The session also offered recommendations for introducing smart speakers into a facility. Small pilot projects are best, to help you decide where to put the devices, such as not in a shared patient room.
 
Nick Patel, CAST Commissioner and president of the Asbury Group – Integrated Technologies, a consulting arm of LeadingAge CAST Patron Asbury Communities, emphasized the importance of connectivity to keep devices on at all times. “You need a resilient network,” he said, even though it takes a lot of bandwidth. Asbury Communities is working with CAST Supporter Connected Living as their technology provider. For more information about Asbury Communities and Connected Living’s experience, please see the following case study:Using Innovative Voice and Smart Home Technologies to Enhance Resident Engagement and Staff Efficiencies

EngAGE Pilot Project Encourages Daily Exercise

An experiment of voice-controlled devices is currently underway at the University of Chicago, in a pilot program testing whether Amazon Alexa can encourage older adults to do their daily exercises. This 14-week pilot hopes to encourage older adults to continue their physical therapy at home, improving their mobility and balance. Doing so is vital for people who have recently been hospitalized and to help avoid disability and falls, said a recent article in New Medical Life Sciences.
 
In the pilot, when someone speaks to Alexa, the device responds by deploying a skill or answers via a web search. The EngAGE skill walks older adults through a daily exercise routine. It automatically adjusts the intensity of the exercise based on participant rating of difficulty, said the article.
 
EngAGE also reportedly pairs the older adult with a caregiver who can see their progress and send encouraging messages which are read out loud to them on the speaker to help them stick with the regimen. Read the full article.