Aspen Public Radio is launching a new community-based smart speaker program aimed at serving senior citizens on the Western Slope of Colorado.
The program will gift seniors with smart speaker technology and is made possible by a community impact grant from Comcast.
The goal of the program will focus on teaching lifelong learners how to use smart speakers, such as Amazon Echo and Google Home, to help decrease feelings of disconnection and isolation.
"We're really hoping to see a measurable impact in our program participants' overall mental health and wellbeing by improving their quality of life, specifically because they feel more connected to current events in the world and to their loved ones, as well as to their local public radio station," said Aspen Public Radio development and community engagement manager Lisa DeLosso, who conceived of the program during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I read that long-term care facilities and assisted living centers were forced to close their doors to visitors during the coronavirus outbreak and it really hit me: not having access to seeing your family or friends is tough at any age, but especially so for seniors, and even more so when coronavirus is affecting older populations disproportionately. We knew we wanted to help."
In addition to their impact on mental health, smart speakers are typically an accommodating medium for older individuals with access or mobility issues, who may not be able to change the dial on a traditional radio or read the fine print of a newspaper.
A 2018 joint university study found that smart speakers were practical tools for appointment and medication reminders, as well as news and weather alerts. In June 2020, NPR’s Ina Jaffe also reported on how the COVID-19 visitor ban in assisted living centers is affecting the physical and mental health of older Americans.
"I'm personally invested in this program because I have a loved one who is currently in an assisted living center and I've seen, firsthand, how helpful smart speakers have been in combating loneliness. It's truly been a godsend for my family," said Aspen Public Radio executive director Tammy Terwelp.
"This technology is capable of so much. 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."