Digital personal assistants could greatly help to alleviate loneliness amongst the elderly, according to the clinical advisor to Public Health England.


Professor Sir Muir Gray said that voice recognition devices, such as Google Assistant on Google Home and Alexa on Amazon Echo, may provide comfort to seniors feeling alone.


Currently, the competition amongst technology brands to produce the most advanced digital assistant is fierce, with millions being invested to create devices that are smarter, quicker, and ultimately, more interactive. Companies such as Amazon and Google are working to improve their existing creations while Microsoft and Samsung have teamed up to develop a speaker for Microsoft’s digital assistant Cortana. Similarly, Apple has also created the HomePod, a smart speaker powered by Apple’s Siri.


Discussing the possibilities that this new technology could provide, Professor Gray said: “There’s significant potential here for older adults in particular, who often need extra encouragement to be active and would benefit from hearing another voice to help prevent feelings of loneliness and isolation.”


He described how assistants such as Alexa may not only provide company for seniors living alone, but could also help to improve their physical fitness as well as provide mental stimulation by reminding them to exercise more frequently and answering questions with their life-like voices.


“Voice recognition devices have huge potential to get people being more active at home” said Professor Gray.


“They might seem like a novelty Christmas present at the moment, but for many people it’s just the sort of encouragement they need to keep on their feet maintaining healthy habits.”


In the UK, loneliness amongst the elderly is a huge problem. According to figures from Age UK, 3.6 million older people live alone, 2 million of whom are 75 or over. Additionally, 1.9 million older adults frequently feel invisible or ignored. These feelings of loneliness can greatly impact a person’s wellbeing, but may be worse for seniors who struggle to interact socially on a regular basis.


Consequently, these new technologies could greatly help to combat feelings of isolation by enabling seniors to interact within their homes, meaning that for some, the problem of getting out and about to avoid loneliness may be lessened. Furthermore, in line with their growing popularity, the price of devices with digital assistants has also largely decreased in recent months, meaning that they are now more affordable and may be viable to some as an everyday item.


As this technology advances, it is hoped that the lifelike capabilities of devices such as Google Home and Amazon Echo will be extended, transforming short but sweet two-way conversations into lengthy discussions that are both complex and realistic. For seniors, this evolving technology could be vital in helping them to lead a happier and healthier life, in which loneliness no longer plays a definitive role.  


If you’d like more information on health and wellbeing, visit our health and care pages to receive free advice concerning healthy aging or find out more about tackling loneliness. We’d love to hear your views so please get in touch via our social media to tell us if you think digital assistants could help in the fight against loneliness.