Every morning for the last four months, an alert has popped up on my phone between 4AM and 6AM, saying, “First activity of the day detected for Michael at 4:39 AM.” Thankfully, I don’t see it at that time. But later, when I’m actually awake and scrolling through my notifications, it’s a quick mental check telling me that my dad, who lives 300 miles away in Florida, is up and moving around.
In January, we started a trial of Alexa Together, a new $19.99 a month service from Amazon that uses its digital assistant to somewhat unobtrusively keep tabs on a consenting family member or loved one. Six months of the service comes bundled with the $130 Echo Show 8, or you can get a 6-month free trial if you already have an Echo device. Using cues from my father’s interactions with Echo speakers and Alexa-connected devices in his home in Florida, Alexa Together kept me informed here in South Carolina without bothering him and without me needing to remember to call and check in (yes, I am a terrible daughter).
Why would you want this service? Because technology, including smart connected devices, can make it easier for aging Americans to stay in their homes for longer. Specifically, Alexa Together can help a caregiver who doesn’t live with an aging loved one maintain a near-constant connection through those smart devices and provide help more easily and quickly when they are needed.
While Alexa Together is not the first service to offer features like this, it’s certainly the most affordable and accessible. It’s also easy to set up and manage, especially if you are already familiar with Echo devices and the Alexa app.
A key feature of the US-only service is a direct line to a 24/7 Urgent Response service, where trained agents can request 911 dispatch in an emergency or contact a friend or family member. It adds a hands-free way to get help, which could be crucial if my dad fell down or was in the type of trouble that meant he couldn’t reach a phone. All he needs to do is call out, “Alexa, I need help,” and the Echo speaker would connect him with an operator.
Thankfully, we never needed this service, but we did test it out, and it worked as advertised. Dad had to ask twice, but the second time he said, “Alexa, call for help,” the Echo Show 8 dialed the response center, and the call was answered within three rings. He could hear and talk to the operator, and they knew who he was.