By Mónica Cordero | Investigate Midwest
Voice assistants like Siri and Alexa could do more than play music or describe the weather — they could help users feel less lonely.
Dr. Valerie K. Jones, professor of advertising and public relations at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, studies the impact of voice assistants on the lives of older adults.
Older adults, particularly those who live alone, are more likely to suffer from loneliness, she said.
“Loneliness is a bummer, but it’s also a big public health issue,” Jones said.
Loneliness is linked to poor health outcomes, depression and cognitive decline.
Jones’ research shows that for aging adults, voice assistants can reduce loneliness, especially when users treat the device like a living being — saying “hello” and “good night,” for example.
And for older adults who are less familiar with digital technologies, voice-operated smart speakers are more approachable than other devices.
“That accessibility, that ease of use, and that convenience can be particularly helpful with older adults,” Jones said.
Smart speakers help facilitate social connection, virtually and face-to-face. For example, users can call family and friends with a voice command. Or, users could use the speaker to listen to music from when they were younger, or look at family photos on devices with a screen.
On customizable devices, users can also set reminders for activities that support physical health, like going for walks or taking medicine.
Jones’ future research will also explore how voice assistants could help older adults with pain reduction.