Skip to Main Content

Alexa - programmers please think twice

I think the next generation of inventors do need to get out on the ground and in people’s shoes to CO-create solitons.  I fear innovators are often stuck away in offices remote from reality. 

My mother is totally blind and now has Alzheimer’s, so has a growing number of basic questions all day that help her keep going. 

Without any visual stimuli to help her during the day and night, (and with my exhausted father needing a rest) she heavily relies on Alexa to answer her many questions….  what day,  what year, what time is it? She asked Alexa what her husband’s name was and the reply was ‘she should know’!!! Not an answer for someone who is seeking motivation and help.

The multiple speaking watches she has, all have setting buttons that cannot be locked and as she fiddles with them all day long so the time, date and year are always wrong. So each time I visit I need to help her reset it. Also for basic build quality - All the buttons have fallen off one by one too. These are not just toys but lifelines for people who feel lost and isolated.

Sadly Her iPhone has almost become too difficult for her to use and all that is left as a lifeline is the the dictation function for text messages that she tries to send us but instead deliver us indecipherable messages - we even got a message about ‘lesbian pigeons’ the other day - which i can assure you is not part of her discussions she wishes to have with her children.

Surely more can be done to help people keep connected and engaged simply? 

Question 2 - Are there any problems with current products or technologies that you use?

edited on Sep 22, 2021 by Natasha Morgan
Public (4)
You will need to login to post a comment
Natasha Morgan 11 months ago

Hi Alexander, thank you so much for sharing your mum's experience. You make an excellent case for the importance of co-creation of innovations with people affected by dementia. I work in the Innovation team at Alzheimer's Society and we are currently writing a guide on that very topic. I wonder if you would let us use your story in the guide? Email me if you would like to discuss it further (

Reply 2

Margaret Booth 11 months ago

Yes this is very familiar. Most tech innovations rely on the person using them behaving in a predictable way, and often assume good or at least average vision, hearing and fine motor control. We must find a way to explain the complexity of dementia to these people before they start solving the wrong problems. Perhaps Alexa could be programmed with a “ this is me” subroutine that could be implemented if and when required. It should be possible to personalise it but I expect that it didn’t occur to the developers that that would be needed.

Reply 2

Julie Hayden 11 months ago

Absolutely agree. I am living with young onset dementia I'm beginning to struggle with setting up gadgets/making adjustments/correcting problems. I live alone and have no family support, so would appreciate appropriate back up, use of plain English in instructions and the offer of a set up service. I think a lot of tech is designed assuming that there will be family around acting as that person's unpaid carers. However, there are many in my position. Even for those who live with a partner/family member, companies should be enabling us to remain as independent as we can for as long as possible. Also, the cost of anything which has a specialist use often has a ridiculous premium placed on it, e.g. £60-80 for a digital clock with the date also added just because of a label of "Dementia Clock" on the title. We are usually u/e and reliant on benefits.

Reply 3

Jennifer Bute 11 months ago

I agree. I use technology a lot and I do relyon Alexa and event amusement from hearing her responses to my queries and then telling her that her reply was inappropriate or useless She always thanks me for my feedback! I am sure ALexa could be dementia tweaked if they put their minds to it. I find her superb for reading my books to me as `I can never remember the title of the book let alone where I got to and she will go back a few sentences or a chapter if I want

Reply 2

Julie Hayden 11 months ago

OMG Jennifer, didn't even realise she could do that!

Reply 1