“Alexa”… My patient yells loudly while showing me this new “friend” of hers during my weekly visit to fill her medication box. I stare at the little black hockey puck looking thing on the table next to her and watch it light up blue. “Tell me a joke,” my patient says smiling excitedly looking at the table and then back up at me waiting to see my response. The hockey puck turns blue again and a robotic female voice now chimes out, “How do you know if you are a pirate?” A slight pause while my patient remains smiling in anticipation… “You just arrrrr,” Alexa finishes. My patient laughs loudly and turns towards me while tapping my leg with her cane, “ Aint that a trip?” she says while still laughing. I have to admit it was nice to see her so happy as I do not recall that I ever really had and this Alexa thing was kind of cool from what I could tell, although I did not know much about it. I had heard of it before from a few of my friends and had seen the advertisements about a million times as I like many are on Amazon much too frequently but this was my first introduction. My patient usually sits quietly in her living room chair awaiting my weekly visit as for the most part, I am the only visitor. She cannot see well anymore so she can’t read which she once greatly enjoyed. Her arthritis now keeps her from knitting which was another favorite past time that she can no longer do. I had recently thought about calling her doctor to discuss depression as most of her days are spent alone. I had noticed of late that she was becoming more and more anxious and withdrawn and it concerned me. I have seen this many, many times in this profession so I was intrigued by this little hockey puck and wondered what else it could do along with bringing a smile to a lonely ladies face.
About two weeks later while visiting another patient, I met Alexa again. A patients daughter had just installed the larger version of her which she set up to control her Dad’s (my patient) lights so he wouldn’t fall when walking to the bathroom at night. Much like my first patient he also seemed very excited to tell me about this Alexa gadget lady during my next few visits. He showed me how she played any song that he wanted and could also tell him the weather and the news. Similar to my first patient Alexa seemed to bring some excitement and companionship to another quiet home. I couldn’t help but wonder; could technology alleviate some of the loneliness we find so often in our elderly population?
Studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 7 million American adults over the age of 65 experience depression each year. The symptoms of depression vary from person to person. In seniors, some of the most common symptoms include:
feeling sadness or “emptiness”
feeling hopeless, cranky, nervous, or guilty for no reason
sudden lack of enjoyment in favorite pastimes
loss of concentration or memory
either insomnia or too much sleep
eating too much or eating too little
suicidal thoughts or attempts
aches and pains
There are so many factors that contribute to depression and loneliness. For our elders, some of these are disease and illness along with possibly the lack of close family and the passing of friends. Also distressing are the limitations of a now aging body and a decreased level of independence possibly having to rely on others causing one to feel burdensome. Although Alexa won’t replace family and friends or solve all of these issues, she does seem to provide some distraction and amusement along with being just plain useful and fun. I have recommended Alexa to quite a few patients family members who have made the purchase for their loved ones and are quite pleased. I recently made the purchase myself, and after realizing I can play the whole soundtrack to the movie Dirty Dancing… I’m hooked! Thank you, Amazon. Job well done… as usual.