Using Alexa to support carers throughout the pandemic

Guest Post from Aidan Finney at Carers Leeds who shares Monica’s story:

We received several Amazon Echo Show’s from 100% Digital Leeds at the start of the pandemic which we were keen to get out to support Carers in isolation. Through working in partnership with 100% Digital Leeds on the NHS Widening Participation Dementia Pathfinder we had seen the benefits of voice technology for Carers especially supporting with self-management and mental wellbeing.

During the pandemic Monica was referred to Carers Leeds.

Monica told me about her caring situation, she cares for her mother who has a diagnosis of lewy body dementia and psychosis. Monica lives a number of miles away from her mother at the other side of Leeds, she has often needed to drive across to check on her mother when she was in crisis. She has found this a challenging aspect of her caring role balancing her own life and work and driving across Leeds on a regular basis.

When COVID-19 hit this wasn’t something Monica could do as easily and she became extremely anxious about how she would be able to care for her mother and stay in contact through the pandemic. At Carers Leeds we suggested she trial one of the Amazon Echo Show’s from 100% Digital Leeds, which would give her the opportunity to communicate with her mother while she couldn’t drive over to see her.

We set up the Alexa for Monica’s mother, Monica downloaded the Alexa app on her phone which connects to her mother’s device and we talked her through how to use it.

As a result of this, over the past two months through lockdown Monica has been able to link her phone to her mother’s Alexa via the ‘check in’ option and they have been able to see each other on the screen and chat to each other.

Monica has been so reassured by seeing her mother over the video call and her mother is able to be reassured through seeing her daughter and speaking to her through the device. This has given both Monica and her mother peace of mind as they can quickly see each other when needed rather than having to wait for Monica to be available to drive over for support each time her mother is in need.

During the current situation with the pandemic this has been invaluable and has supported both of them to develop their digital skills, increasing their confidence in using the devices and seeing the real benefits of using them.

Monica explained:

My mother has really enjoyed listening to her favourite songs on the Alexa and interacting with it for the social aspect in isolation, she finds this therapeutic. It boosts her mental wellbeing by having a nice atmosphere of music in the home and it puts my mind at ease knowing she’s not as down or feeling as low. It’s amazing that we can now have video calls I can’t describe how special it is.”

We’ve found music is often a really great way for people living with Dementia to enjoy reminiscing about times they can remember from their past and it’s a great tool to help with relaxation and relieve agitation.

This has been the case for Monica’s mother and changed her situation dramatically compared to how she was feeling at the start of the pandemic. Monica can’t imagine life without using the Alexa now, and feels calmer and happier knowing she can have that contact with her mother whenever she wants, she is thrilled it has really boosted her mother’s mental wellbeing and her own.

Thank you 100% Digital Leeds for giving Monica and other Carers through Carers Leeds the opportunity to use these devices which are making such an incredible difference to people’s lives especially in the current situation.

Leeds and Croydon are creating a Digital Inclusion Toolkit

Leeds City Council and the London Borough of Croydon have kicked off the first Sprint in our joint project to create a collaborative Digital Inclusion Toolkit. The project is funded by MHCLG as part of the Local Digital COVID-19 Challenge, and will be delivered in partnership with AgeUK Croydon and the Eastbourne-based company TechResort.

Leeds has a proven track record of delivering successful digital inclusion initiatives with the 100% Digital Leeds programme, and put forward a bid to share this experience in the form of a guide or toolkit to assist other councils wishing to set up and manage digital inclusion projects.

Croydon council was keen to test and develop new digital inclusion initiatives, including equipment lending and skills training, and to publish this learning in the form of a collaborative playbook. Together, the bids made an excellent fit for a joint project.

As we head into the first Sprint, here’s a summary of what we plan to achieve in the coming weeks.

What We’re Thinking About

Increasing digital inclusion plays an absolutely key part in ensuring that people who may be vulnerable and socially isolated are not further disadvantaged by the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.

This toolkit aims to draw on the combined experience and learning of Leeds and Croydon councils to produce a comprehensive guide on methods for tackling digital exclusion, and also to create a collaborative platform where other councils and organisations can feed in their own experience and content.

So far, the team has begun outlining our success criteria for the project, with some refining still to do over the next Sprint.

Initial problem statement: “How can we create a single authoritative source of digital inclusion information that anyone can add to?”

Current project goals:

  • Publish the content we already have
  • Make the content easy to follow
  • Find the gaps and fill them
  • Provide basic commenting tools

What We’ve Been Doing

  • Getting to know each other – The run up to Sprint 1 was spent establishing communications channels and getting to know the project team
  • Getting used to agile – We spent some time going over the principles of agile project management to ensure everyone was comfortable with this way of working
  • Setting some goals – the first review meeting has been held, during which we set some Sprint 1 goals and established tasks around better defining the project

What’s Next?

One of the first tasks is to better define the nature of the toolkit, in terms of content, structure, and platform.

Content Development

In this Sprint we will be coming up with an initial outline for what chapters to include in the toolkit. This will need to cover everything we consider to be essential content for the final product. Initially it will draw on things learned over the course of the development and delivery of the 100% Digital Leeds programme. Defining the chapters we want to include will help us to identify any gaps in our understanding which we can go on to fill via research and discovery later in the project.

Current questions to answer:

  • What are some common technical questions asked by our audiences?
  • What devices and products does the project team already have experience with?
  • How effective are some of the 100% Digital Leeds approaches when trialled in another part of the country
Product Development

Work is already underway in searching for an appropriate platform to host the content. A suitable platform must present our content in an easy to navigate, accessible format. This project is also intended to be collaborative, with the ability for other councils and organisations to comment, ask questions and make additions to the content. We are in the process of identifying options to trial, and beginning to consider how external contributions to the site might function in terms of moderation and keeping the content streamlined.

Current questions to answer:

  • What platform options are available and how well do they suit our needs?
  • How can we make the final product collaborative, while also maintaining the quality and accessibility of the content?

Summary

Heading into Sprint 1 the primary focus is on defining what the toolkit will look like. Once a more concrete idea of what the final product should be is in place we can begin the process of creating and sourcing content, and also move forward with planning what research and testing work needs to be done.

We will be publishing regular update blogs on this project over the next couple of months, so keep an eye out for more info on our progress once Sprint 1 is complete.

Staying safe online

Links to trusted sites providing information and online learning to help people to stay safe online.

The UK Safer Internet Centre 

A great place to find out how to stay safe online. They have produced lots of useful guides that are child-friendly but useful for all, including this guide on how to stay safe on Houseparty 

The National Cyber Security Centre 

Advice for information and families including straight forward advice on common cyber problems like being hacked, receiving suspicious emails, and malware, how to ensure devices are secure, and safe use of social media. 

Get Safe Online 

Practical advice on how to protect yourself, your computers and mobiles device and your business against fraud, identity theft, viruses and many other problems encountered online. The site contains guidance on many other related subjects too – including performing backups and how to avoid theft or loss of your computer, smartphone or tablet,  safe online shopping, gaming and dating. Also a checklist guide for those new to the internet and a series of videos covering key topics. 

CIFAS: How to stay safe from online scams 

5 top tips on how to stay safe from online scams from the UK’s largest cross-sector fraud sharing association. Plus, a page highlighting the types of online fraud people are susceptible to during Covid-19

Friends Against Scams 

A National Trading Standards Scams Team initiative, which aims to protect and prevent people from becoming victims of scams by empowering people to take a stand against scams. They offer free scam prevention online training. and provide a downloadable leaflet on how to avoid coronavirus scams.  

Action Fraud 

The national fraud and cyber crime reporting centre, including an A-Z of online fraud and scams, reporting cyber crime, and a chat function for tailored support. 

Age UK eSafety guide for older people  

Covering advice on online shopping, health scams, relationship scams etc. Also available as a printable PDF guide.