Aspen Public Radio in Colorado has developed a new pilot project to help combat loneliness among older adults.
The initial phase of the project aims to provide about 40 smart speakers to people living in four assisted-living facilities in nearby communities.
During the pandemic, many people have been “experiencing a level of social isolation, which is really upsetting,” said Lisa DeLosso, the station’s development and community engagement manager and the project’s creator. “And I think especially more so when you’re in an assisted-living facility or a long-term care facility as a senior citizen. So we really just wanted to think of ways that we could help and promote our mission to the community and connect.”
The station received a $5,000 grant from Comcast to kickstart the project and is looking to other grant funding to continue the project after this year when the initial grant runs out.
The station has not yet distributed the smart speakers but hopes to connect with long-term care facilities to teach the residents how to use the speakers.
Aspen Public Radio Executive Director Tammy Terwelp said on the station’s website that one of her loved ones lives in an assisted-living center. Terwelp has seen “how helpful smart speakers have been in combating loneliness,” she wrote. “It’s truly been a godsend for my family.”
“This technology is capable of so much,” Terwelp said in the post. “It can help individuals play public radio, laugh at new jokes, hear interesting news stories daily, and spark curiosity about the world. It literally connects people to our mission.”
DeLosso said the smart speakers are beneficial because they get “more people listening and connected with potentially life-saving information” such as weather updates. And if people are experiencing news fatigue, the smart speakers can also tell jokes and play music, she pointed out.
The devices could also be used for medication and appointment reminders, she said. And DeLosso wonders whether a smart speaker could announce when the mail has arrived, a common question at one facility Aspen Public Radio has heard from.
A 2018 study published in the journal Innovation in Aging said that smart speakers “may be an effective tool to support healthy aging and wellness of older adults.” Participants in the study said they generally had a positive experience with smart speakers. The two most popular uses were for asking practical questions and setting reminders, the study found.
In the long term, Aspen Public Radio would like to give smart speakers to people outside of assisted-living facilities and to see other stations replicate the project, DeLosso said.
“We know that the demographics of public radio listeners is a little bit older, and it’s just an opportunity for us to be able to serve our community right now in a creative way,” DeLosso said.
Last year I had an eye-opening conversation with a guy who manages a “radio reading service for the blind” in my region. He mentioned that several assisted living facilities in the area really put the screws to their elderly tenants when it comes to internet access. As in, you can’t buy internet from anyone but the facility, and they charge very high rates for very little bandwidth. So it really makes using a smart speaker (or any webcast) a practical impossibility. I’m curious if this is a more uniquely New England problem or if Aspen PR has seen it in Colorado as well?