In brief: How to use Alexa to help people with Dementia

Alexa devices can help people with dementia by aiding communication, entertainment, organisation and other aspects of their lives. A well set-up Alexa device is easy to use and controlled by voice commands like "Alexa play my favourite songs". However it takes time to set up and customise the devices, and this site aims to help.

Drop-in video calls and music playback make a tremendous contribution to quality of life even if the elderly person never learns how to control the device.  My mum struggles to use a conventional telephone, radio or cd-player. With Alexa's help we now have regular video calls and everyday she sings and dances to music she loves.

The best Alexa device for most situations is the $130 Echo Show because of its big screen and decent sound.  In a bigger home, additional $25 Echo Dot devices give a cost-effective way to improve the experience, as they can play music and ring for incoming calls. Prices vary, and the ones shown are what I paid during Ama…

The second generation Echo Show

I'm thrilled that Amazon are enhancing the Alexa experience with the release of the second generation Echo Show.

For the elderly, I think the biggest improvement will be the larger screen. The new model is 10" where the earlier model is 7".

A second improvement is that it will support Skype calls. That makes video calling much easier for other callers, but may not support the "drop-in" functionality which is so useful when dealing with dementia. Hopefully the Skype support will also be available to first generation Echo Shows as well.

I think the biggest benefit of the news may be that the Echo Show (first generation) sells at its recent discounted price of around US$130, making the tech affordable to many more families, and a big improvement on the earlier price of US$230.

What is Alexa for Someone with Dementia?

Rick Phelps wrote positively about his experiences with Alexa as an Alzheimer's sufferer. His blog is no longer available, but I found this excerpt.

To many, the Amazon Echo is simply a cool thing to have; just another nifty electronic gadget. ​But to a dementia patient, it is much more than that.​ It has afforded me something that I have lost: my memory. I can ask Alexa anything and I get the answer instantly. I can also ask it what day it is 20 times each day, and I will still get the same correct answer. (It also doesn’t get annoyed with me.)​

I hope you see the potential this thing has for you and your loved one. This obviously would not be something for someone in the later stages of the disease who has trouble speaking. But if you have a loved one who is repeatedly asking you the same questions, this may be the ticket. All they need to remember is their “wake word,” Alexa, Amazon or Echo.​

Via the Caregiving and Alexa blog

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A big day - mum's first outgoing call

Using the app, I can see her dialog

"Alexa Can you please call Dad?"
"Do you mean Dad?"
Mum called Dad using Alexa!

I'm learning that some things take time. Mum needs to be in the right state of mind to try new things, and it's a delight to see she took the initiative.

A hardware problem

The Echo Show I set up for mum is having problems.  It keeps rebooting or shutting down without explanation.

One time it showed an error message:

Press and hold the power button to reboot your device.
Visit for more help.
Soon after, I chose "Reset to Factory Defaults" and set the device up again.

Even after that, the Echo Show keeps shutting down. It requires manual intervention to power up again.

That's a big problem for a device that is supposed to work for mum. Luckily I have a spare available and will see if that one works more reliably.

Postscript: Amazon was as wonderfully customer-centric as ever and will replace the device. The replacement device worked without problems.

Starting out and motivations

There's one feature above all others that attracted me to Amazon's Alexa as a potential help for my mother.

The "drop-in" functionality on the Echo Show's video calling means we can set up a device in her kitchen, and we should be able to call in and see and talk without mum having to do anything technical.  Using the telephone seems to been bit beyond her lately.

And, on the topic of the telephone, unfortunately the modern world has turned that wonderful device into a nuisance.  At least half the calls mum receives are from commercial call centres, calling "on behalf of charities", or pure scams like the tech assistance one. That's even after making her number unlisted, and adding it to various government "do not call" lists. And then there have been many times when mum leaves the phone off the hook, so she becomes unreachable.

So the Echo Show is appealing because it provides video calling, drop-in functionality and a restricted call li…