Last month I shared some thoughts on the challenges of bringing technology to seniors and the technical difficulty connecting it all up. I ended my segment with a prelude to a simple setup that just about anyone can set up in just a few short steps. With the help of Amazon and their now ubiquitous Alexa devices we can set up a light in the bedroom that can be controlled with a simple voice command, “Alexa turn on the bed light”. I chose this setup, because having proper lighting when getting into or out of bed is a key safety feature for older adults and this set up could help many people avoid falls.We will need at a minimum three items; an Amazon Echo Dot, an Amazon Smart Plug and a bed lamp/light. Now we also need to have a smart phone, an Amazon account, the Alexa app, Internet service and WiFi in the house; see it gets complicated quickly! We’re not going to get into the setup of the WiFi, as often this will be done by your service provider, but you will need to know your WiFi password.
We are going to use the Echo Dot (https://amz.run/3puI), since it’s the cheapest device, but any Amazon voice controller will work. Next, we will need a ‘smart’ plug. While there are many plugs that will work (some that are cheaper also), we quickly run into that issue of ‘complications’ once we go off-brand. Though they all work with minimal set up, most require a separate app on your phone that you then have to connect to amazon/alexa and we want to keep things super simple. So, for our project let’s use the amazon branded one (https://amz.run/3puR). As long as you have a bed lamp already, this set up will cost you about $60.
We will need an Amazon account and we will need to download the Alexa app to a smartphone. Using the Alexa app, you will be able to connect the Dot to the SmartPlug with a few simple steps.
Step 1 - Set up your Amazon account. If you are doing this for a family member, I would suggest you set up their own account.
- Go to amazon.com and click the sign-in button at the top right and look for the New Customer – Start here link.
- Enter name, email and create a password. Be sure to use a good password, one that you will remember but not easy for others to guess.
Step 2 - Order your Amazon Dot, this will automatically connect the Dot to your account.
If you have a dot ordered through another account, follow the step to connect the Dot to the newly created account. It’s not too difficult, but there are a few steps you’ll need to take that are not part of this tutorial.
Step 3 - Order your Amazon Smart plug, though this may not connect it to your account the process to get it to work once you receive it is very simple.
Step 4 - Once you have received the Amazon Dot, you’ll want to place it in the bedroom so it’s easy to access. The Dot will come with easy to follow instructions for connecting it to your home network. This will involve plugging it in and then opening the app on your phone to connect it to your home network. Amazon is very good with their instructions, so this step is straightforward.
Step 5 - Next we want to plug in the Amazon Smart Plug into the outlet that your current bed light is plugged into.
Step 6 - Now open your Alexa app on your phone. You may get lucky and Alexa will find the plug on it’s own, if not, tap the devices icon in the lower right of the Alexa app and then click the ‘+’ icon.
From there you’ll select ‘add device’ and then select ‘plug’ from the device menu. At the ‘plug’ menu you’ll select ‘Amazon’ and follow the on-screen instructions. IMPORTANT - During this step you will ‘name’ the plug. I recommend that you use a simple name that describes the device that we will be controlling, something like ‘Bed Light’. If you use a complicated word, Alexa may not work flawlessly. So keep it simple.
Step 7 - Once the plug is named, plug in the bed light to the plug and make sure the lamp is in the on position.
Now you can control the light by saying “Alexa, turn on the Bed Light” this will turn on the plug and then provide power to the light. You can turn off the light by saying “Alexa, turn off the Bed Light”
Some things to remember - You’ll want to use Alexa to control the light, since she can’t turn on the light if the switch is in the off position. Also, if the plug is off, then the switch on the light may not control the light since it’s not getting power. There is a small indicator light on the plug, if it’s on the indicator light will be green, if it’s off, then the indicator light will be off. You can turn the plug off and on using a switch at the side of the plug. This is one of those nagging issues with technology, it works, but only if you control all the variables! One solution is to designate a floor lamp to Alexa or a second light near the bed and always leave the light switch on and only use Alexa to control it. This process may take a little getting used to but if the goal is for safety then it’s worth the time to try to make it work. The great thing about this set up is that, you’ll never have to physically turn on the light again, just have Alexa do the job for you.
The usual feedback I get is that this seems like a lot of work to replace something as simple as reaching over and turning on the light. But if you think about the actual process, you can see the dangers. Turning on a bed light often requires a reach, during that reach a lot can go wrong. I can strain my back because the reach is just a little bit farther than I thought, I can slip out of bed because I was closer to the edge then I realized, I can be lazy and attempt to make the journey from my bed to the bathroom in the dark and trip along the way or any other unexpected scenario. While the technology is not perfect, it provides a great option to turn on a light so I can orient myself, and properly plan my next move. Who knows, it may just help me avoid an accident and then it’s worth the steps described above. If you don’t have a loved one that can help you with the steps I’ve described, feel free to reach out to your local Caring Senior Service office, and one of our team members will help you get it set up. While we are there, we can do a full safety assessment of your home and provide a home care assessment to see if you could benefit from our services.
Once you’ve mastered this simple set up, then the world of automation really opens up and there are a million things you can do to make your home safer and simplify other tasks. You’ve also now have Alexa at your beck and call for other functionality, play music, get the weather, ask the time, set a timer, set a reminder, make a call and so much more. Have fun exploring and I hope this helps you create a safer environment in your home.