“Alexa, drop in on Mom.” (There’s an Echo in here.)

My wheelchair-bound mom with advanced Parkinson’s, is in a care home, locked down for the pandemic. My last ‘normal’ visit with her in her room was back in February. Then came the lockdown. Earlier this month they started allowing limited visits, so my brother and I gave the required 24-hour notice of our visit, drove 5 hours each way, to talk to her outside, for 30 minutes, from behind a strip of tape that kept us 10 feet apart, with lawnmowers working all around us. She can only talk in a whisper volume, and has trouble verbalizing her thoughts and enunciating, so we could hardly make out anything she was trying to say. After 5 months, and 5 hours of driving, and all of us wearing masks, not even a hug was allowed. But we did get to see her, and take her a bottle of Coke and some homemade cookies, and that gave us all a boost.

The other thing we took to her was an Amazon Echo Dot device for her room. It has been an unbelievably helpful communication facilitator.

This post is a recommendation and review of the Echo Dot device. It is not solicited or compensated. The device has been a Godsend for us in our situation with our mom, and I want to share the information for anyone who may find themselves and a family member similarly situated.

From the moment Amazon introduced Alexa, ‘she’ was banned from my devices and my home. A device listening in my house all the time was not okay. Then I began reading about Amazon’s Echo Dot, and realized it can help my mom, who can no longer dial her phone, check messages, text, use email, etc. We got the Dot to her, and programmed it with a handful of close family members and trusted friends as her contacts. The Echo Dot picks up her whisper voice, and can understand her voice commands. She can talk to her contacts simply by saying, “Alexa, call _____.”

So, where Alexa was once banned from my house, ‘she’ is now listening day and night in the form of an Echo Dot on my front room table.

The Drop In

Not only can the Echo Dot call your contacts’ phones; it can also ‘drop in’ on other Echo Dots or Alexa-enabled devices. It works like an intercom. I say, “Alexa, drop in on Mom.” I’m instantly talking to her through the Echo Dot in her room, and the sound is loud and clear, as if she’s here in my house.

The first time I ‘Dropped In’ on Mom, it went perfectly. I dropped in, started talking, she heard me and we had a brief conversation, as if she were here in the next room, rather than another state. We ended that drop in with agreement to do another one soon.

Then I started getting ready for bed, and let Myrtle-the-dog out one last time. I happened to glance toward the Echo, and realized it was glowing green, which meant someone had Dropped In and could hear me. It was Mom, trying the Drop In for herself. I frantically thought back through the last few minutes, trying to remember if I’d said any cuss words or something else I wouldn’t want Mom to hear. It was a flashback to being a busted teenager. I now watch my language even in my own house, because you-know-who might be listening.

caught ted GIF

It’s been a couple of weeks, and the Echo has been amazing for her. She can make a shopping list of things she needs someone to bring or send to her. She can call her friends and family, and Drop In on those of us with Alexa devices. Her voice is loud and clear. I can assist remotely by adding to her contacts, and reading her shopping list, etc., from the Alexa app.

Shopping List. She can say, “Alexa, put socks on the shopping list.” And we know she needs socks.

Routines. We’ve set up a couple of Alexa ‘routines’ for her. One is for morning. She can say, “Alexa, good morning.” It will tell her the day, time, weather, and a news briefing from the Kansas City Star. There’s a ‘good news’ briefing, that will give her a good news report. There is an evening routine with tomorrow’s forecast and a news briefing.

Music. She tells Alexa to play 50s music, Elvis songs, classic country, and more. Alexa does what she requests.

Meanwhile, here at my place, I’ve now gotten a Smart Plug, that allows me to say, “Alexa, turn on/off the light.” Each morning Alexa reads me my calendar for the day, the weather report, and a news briefing when I say, “Alexa, good morning.” Alexa is now maintaining my grocery list. And now that the MLB season is underway, I can ask, “Alexa, what time is the Royals game?”

Wrapping this up…, if you are like the pre-Alexa me, you’ll want to keep banning her from your home and devices. It’s a privacy thing. I don’t blame you. But if you have a need to stay in touch with a vulnerable family member or friend, even temporarily, the Echo Dot works, and works well. All it requires is a plugin and a wifi connection. It has restored our ability to have a daily conversation with our mom, and she can contact and talk to us and her other close friends and family at will, even though she can no longer operate her phone.

Link to Echo Dot page on Amazon (or click on one of the pictures above): https://amzn.to/3jEbU0w