In 2017, I convinced my grandmother to live with me due to her dementia. We always planned for her to live independently. Still, when the opportunity came around, I was nervous about what that independence would look like, especially increasing her isolation.
One day, I took her to an Afro-Caribbean senior club, and they sang a song neither of us had heard in over a decade, but she remembered every word. It was how I discovered the power of music on people with dementia. I got her a radio, but she would not remember to turn it on, so I got her Alexa and programmed it to play a playlist of her favourite music in the morning. She loved it.
The pandemic upended her routine, and she had difficulty keeping track of time, so I got her a Fitbit. However, she could not remember to charge it and the act of charing the smartwatch was a bit complicated for her.
That's when I had my eureka moment. What if I got Alexa to remind her to charge her watch and give her step-by-step instructions to do so? After two weeks, she no longer needed the reminders and began charging her watch on her own as a part of her nightly routine. Unbeknownst to me, I was conducting cognitive rehabilitation therapy.
According to Alzheimer's society, "Cognitive rehabilitation is a type of therapy that can make managing everyday activities easier for people with early-stage dementia. Several studies have shown that it can help them to maintain their independence."
I saw this positive impact on my grandmother's case, and I wanted to help other older adults and those who care for them.
What it does
GG Care acts as a virtual care companion that guides the user to complete a task as the carer would through verbal instruction. The novel conversational flow helps older adults complete everyday life activities by breaking down tasks into easily digestible steps. When a voice task is scheduled, GG Care gently guides the user with a series of questions and prompts.
Some of these steps require specific hints to complete these tasks. If the user needs additional assistance completing a task, Alexa can provide helpful tips that the carer can set on their GG Care account. Our technology is not meant to replace carers but help them by adding the personal touches that help their loved ones stay independent.
How we built it
The programming language is elixir, which was chosen for its low latency to assist the interactive nature of the dialogue. The dialogue itself was built using Voiceflow. API connections between the GG Care dashboard, Alexa and Voiceflow enable the personalisation of the reminders, such as reminding them where their medication is located.
Challenges we ran into
People with mild cognitive impairment find it difficult to remember the invocation name. So we designed the conversational flow of the reminder as a kind of repeat after me. For example, when reminding them to take their medication, the reminder will say. "I can help you help you take your medication if you say, Alexa, Open GG."
Accomplishments that we're proud of
We are proud of the press recognition and recent accolades for this skill. Forbes magazine published a glowing feature about GG Care, followed by Alzheimer's Society Magazine coverage and another lengthy feature in Neuro Rehab (NR). GG Care became a finalist for the London Health Tech startup of the year.
What we learned
Many of the older adults consulted in developing this skill were reluctant because voice assistant technology is so foreign to them. However, adoption was easier when Alexa was first introduced to them as a device to listen to their favourite music and later as a virtual care companion.
What's next for Virtual Care Companion
An academic institution in Spain expressed interest in translating this Alexa skill into Spanish to combat the isolation of Spain's elderly population in remote areas. GG Care's probono legal team is drafting the contract.
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