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Could gadgets such as Amazon’s Alexa help keep older people in Norfolk independent?

Amazon Echo Dot. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

Amazon Echo Dot. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

archant 2017

Gadgets could help older people in Norfolk to retain their independence and prevent loneliness, the county’s director of adult social services has said.

Executive director of adult social services at Norfolk County Council James Bullion. Picture Norfolk County Council Executive director of adult social services at Norfolk County Council James Bullion. Picture Norfolk County Council

With Norfolk County Council needing to save £100m over the next four years, including more than £30m from its adult social care budget, a major shift in social care is pending.

The council is looking at innovative ways to provide care, with director James Bullion suggesting voice activated gadgets such as Amazon Echo Dot could help.

That gadget carries out commands when users shout the name ‘Alexa’ at it. The device, is linked to WiFi and users can ask Alexa to answer questions, play music, order shopping, turn on lights or thermostats and, in a recent addition, alert pre-set phone numbers and emails in the case of a fall.

The county council’s adult social care committee yesterday agreed to a new model of social care, reducing people’s dependency on council services, such as residential homes, while helping people live independently.

The council is bringing in 50 extra social workers to help find ways for vulnerable people to live in their own homes.

And Mr Bullion said technology such as Alexa could have a part to play. He said: “Could people be using Alexas? I think they could make a contribution.

But he stressed: “We would not expect them to replace human care or be the only form of communication, but I think they could play a role.

“We want to see if there’s some of the Alexa skills which could work in specific circumstances, such as reminding people about medication or helping them access an online directory of services.”

Susan Ringwood, chief executive of Age UK Norwich, said: “We know some elderly people are very able when it comes to using new technology, but there are some who distrust it and I don’t think it can ever replace companionship.

“We had a conference in Cambridge where they demonstrated a life sized robot which could be introduced in hospitals to go to people’s beds and have conversations with patients.

“The professionals in the room felt very uneasy and said it would be much better to use the robot to do the form filling, so they could be freed up to talk to the patient.”

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