The number one question for many seniors isn't about politics, world affairs or movie showtimes. It's more like: Why did I come upstairs?
As we age, it becomes harder to stay focussed on that ONE thing we really wanted to do today, or to tell someone when they call. All it takes is a distraction, like a delivery or phone call, and POOF! That one important item is in the wind.
I've watched relatives and other seniors struggle with this, and I sometimes do myself. Having a senior moment can be funny after the fact, but it's still frustrating at the time.
I wanted to build a simple, habit-forming solution with no learning curve, that acknowleges frequent users by switching to shorter responses, and has no unnecessary to dilute its main purpose.
What it does
Think of Senior Moment as the voice equivalent of writing something important on your hand for later. There's only room for one thing, and here in the moment that's the only thing that matters.
To save your important thought, you say Remember followed by a short description.
Remember, I must water the plants today Remember, close all the upstairs windows Remember, call Bob and tell him the movie starts at 8pm Remember, pay the car insurance
When you want to recall your item, you can say things like:
Recall What was that thing I wanted to remember? What was I about to do? Why did I come in here? Who was I going to call Why did I come upstairs
The skill keeps your saved thought until you overwrite it with another or clear it by saying delete.
How we built it
I built this skill as an Alexa-hosted skill using Node.js. Alexa-hosted was a good fit for this because it requires a small amount of persistent storage for each user. Alexa-hosted skills come with access to a free DynamoDB database. You don't get full access to the database, but in this case I didn't need it.
Challenges we ran into
Amazingly, it's harder to leave things out than add them in. I had several nice features in early planning and prototyping of this skill, such as notifications and a more sophisticated database, but I ripped them out to focus on simplicity.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
One-shot invocations make the two primary functions very quick and easy to invoke.
Recognising frequent users and rewarding them with shorter prompts and responses. Lets the skill stay out of the way once people have built the habit of saving and retrieving their item.
What we learned
In talking to seniors in person and in online communities, distraction followed by forgetfulness is an everyday occurrence - and it's very frustrating. A solution would need to be equally natural - almost casual - to become habit-forming.
Any tech solution that isn't obvious, does too much, or requires explanation, won't be given a chance to solve this problem. Many people I spoke to found Alexa's existing lists, reminders and notifications confusing - they liked the simplicity of the idea - a simple memory aid that only remembers one thing.
What's next for Senior Moment
There's not much I want to add to this skill other than maybe adding analytics to help refine the interaction model. I would love to get formal feedback from a large community of seniors to help fine-tune it, e.g. from a residential setting with existing access to Alexa.