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Innovation Case Study: Amazon Alexa Skill for Seniors Aging In Place

Over the summer of 2018, k2forma developed a capsule innovation project focused on creating an Amazon Alexa skill that could help alleviate social isolation for seniors who are aging in place. This case study walks though our process for developing and evaluating the skill.

 

Introduction

Social isolation in seniors is a significant threat to health and longevity, and can contribute to cognitive decline and the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, in 2018 there were 5.6 million Americans over the age of 65 living with Alzheimer’s dementia.

Family and friends have distinctive and complementary roles in social isolation. Social isolation also takes a toll on caregivers, with 65% of caregivers reporting isolation of their loved one as a primary source of stress.

Our goal was to develop a simple Alexa skill to help alleviate social isolation for seniors who are aging in place and their caregivers, while also serving to establish a relationship with the technology that can be cultivated for more sophisticated uses.

 

Background

Nearly 43 million Americans own a smart speaker, and 46% are over the age of 45. Smart speaker technology offers a tremendous opportunity to improve the lives of seniors. Data also shows that users tend to move through the adoption curve from ‘early adopters’ to more sophisticated use within one year.

A key factor in building trust in a skill is the error-free ease of use. As the skill is repeatedly used without issue, the user progresses through the trust curve and begins to ask the technology to perform more sophisticated tasks. At the outset, most users request simple tasks such as ‘play music’ or ‘get the weather’. As trust builds, users begin to ask the smart speaker to create shopping lists, schedule calendar reminders, and perform routine functions such as turning on lights. This eventually leads to more sophisticated interactions such as making purchases with the device and more complex functions that incorporate multiple tasks.

My Daily Tale

Visit MyDailyTale.com to enable the skill on Amazon Alexa and learn more about the storytellers. In the near future, the site will allow users to submit their own stories so stay tuned!  You can enable the skill today by clicking the button below. Give it a try!

Proposed Solution

Our objective was to create a simple skill that would introduce seniors to the smart speaker technology and build trust. The Alexa skill was developed to target both caretakers and the elderly and aims to solve an issue which affects either individual or both as a group. We have identified isolation as an underrepresented aspect of aging within established technological applications.

We began by interviewing seniors and caretakers to understand the challenges each group faces related to social isolation. Our team explored several options and established a utility/complexity matrix; the more utilitarian the skill often meant that it was more complex to develop and more complex for the user.

We opted for a very simple skill with basic utility, and aggressively developed and rapidly prototyped a v1 Alexa skill designed to establish a baseline for use. The skill we developed is called My Daily Tale.  We invited a dozen storytellers into the studio to record stories. There were no limits or restrictions on what stories they could tell.  We felt that it was important that we have a mix of male and female voices at different stages of their lives.  We wanted to use human voices to help connect with users and to later evaluate which voices resonated with users; men vs women, older vs younger, etc.  We are evaluating whether certain voices and tones were easier for seniors to remember and recall.

 

k2forma amazon alexa developmentOur process:

Identify Issue:  Seniors who are aging in place and suffering from social isolation or are experiencing a lack of social engagement

Hypothesis:  If we created simulated social engagement, would the outcomes be:

    • Increased quality of life
    • Increased trust & use of device
    • Further skills advancement, preparing them for more complex uses such as ordering items, asking for “how-to” advice. Etc.

Parameters:

  • It should be a single-operation; make a request and deliver a result. No additional API or 3rd party integration
  • It should feel human; the delivery should use a human voice not the Alexa voice. should create a habit; by creating content that delivers on the promise of ‘uplifting spirits’ or ‘social engagement’, and is easy to use, we can create a desire for a habit – the fulfillment will lead to more usage.
    • To do this, we will need a robust catalogue of content/storiesamazon alexa user flow
    • To create the habit, the release of stories will need to be tiered; “story of the day’, etc. We don’t want to create a situation where the user can hear all of the content and then not hear new content for several days/weeks. 
    • MVP (minimum viable product) is 7 stories; 1/day for a week. Goal is 30 stories; 1/day for a month.
  • Stories are personal reflections with a universal message, they could harken back to a past time, or if told by a child may highlight a sense of wonder; the ways in which a child sees the world.
    • Perseverance pays off
    • Stop and smell the roses
    • You just never know what could happen; first date/coincidence
    • Kids say the darndest things

Testing:

  • Evaluation of usage & impact on quality of life after 30 days to validate hypothesis.
    • Quality of life assessment
    • Testing the storyteller voice- does the age of the storyteller impact recollection & engagement; older voice vs child’s voice?
  • Explore testing on 2 audiences:
    • Group A – actively participating in a senior-focused outreach program so they have additional outlets to combat social isolation
    • Group B – participants that do not have a service in place to help alleviate social isolation.
      • Which story do you remember the most, and why?
      • How did that story make you feel?
      • Did that story make you want to do something?
      • Did you re-tell the story? If so, to whom? And how…did you reach out to them?

After recording had wrapped, we discovered that most of the storytellers had reminisced about events that had happened more than fifteen years ago, regardless of their age. Many of the stories were playful and humorous anecdotes, and there were surprising similarities between stories told by individuals in their twenties and stories told by individuals in their sixties. When it came to marketing, we were able to make connections between seemingly disparate storytellers; a 28-year-old man and a 68-year-old woman told remarkably similar stories.

Conclusion

As of today, My Daily Tale has been live on Amazon Alexa for approximately six weeks. We’re still currently testing and we’re preparing to roll out a v2 of the skill which will allow anyone nationwide to record a story on their phone and submit it via the website MyDailyTale.com. The addition of user generated content will allow us to rapidly scale the concept and to test additional metrics, including recognition of stories told by familiar voices versus stories told by unfamiliar voices. We are continuing to analyze the growth of user activation of our skill, and are developing future versions that will include scheduling functions to help ease the stress on caretakers and seniors.

 

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