THERE’S A NEW GIRL IN TOWN: MEET LiSA, A HANDS-FREE DIGITAL ASSISTANT SPECIFICALLY FOR SENIORS
A unique social wellness platform by Cuida Health supports aging in place
Like many older adults, Dan Deninger and his wife, Cindy, planned to live out their years in their home and avoid expensive assisted living, or nursing homes. However, that plan was becoming increasingly difficult as Dan, 75, developed age-related health issues, including macular degeneration, and was unable to stay as active as his 72-year-old wife. When Dan stayed home alone there was an added level of anxiety in the couple’s life because Dan couldn’t connect in the increasingly digital world. He had never mastered using a computer, smart phone or other technologies.
Then LiSA entered the Deninger’s life and everything changed. Designed by Cuida Health specifically for older adults, LiSA is the first-of-its-kind voice-activated social wellness platform now being rolled-out across the United States. LiSA is accessible through affordable digital assistant technology in many homes, including Amazon Echo and Google Home. No other special equipment is required.
LiSA gave Dan hands-free access to email messaging, text messaging, information about community activities, calendar reminders and tips on everything from how to prevent falls to staying hydrated. LiSA did all this with a sense of humor and wasn’t aggravated when Dan had to ask her to repeat something more than a few times. And always polite, she didn’t talk over him if he paused to collect a thought, Dan said.
“I feel like I’m in the game again thanks to LiSA,” said Dan, a participant in a four-month pilot study of the social wellness platform. Though initially skeptical of his ability to work with LiSA, Dan quickly became an adept and frequent user of the platform. When Cindy visited family in Chicago last summer, LiSA allowed the couple to message daily, unhindered by the time difference.
“I feel good knowing that LiSA is there to help and support me 24/7. And it has boosted my self-esteem because now I’m connected to the rest of the world again,” Dan said. Those sentiments were echoed by dozens of older adults who participated in the LiSA pilot test.
Supporting Independence and Activity
“LiSA was designed to be a social wellness platform to help older adults avoid the isolating effects of aging and to support active, independent lives,” said Tom Watlington, Cuida Health co-founder and chief executive. “LiSA is a tool that older adults will want to use because it provides an enjoyable experience that engages through an entertaining persona created specifically for the needs of seniors.”
LiSA addresses the need for infrastructure that supports the changing equation of aging, said Natasha Josefowitz, Ph.D., 92, a psychologist, author and business consultant. People are living longer, giving seniors many more years for which they can make plans and goals to work toward, Josefowitz said. Family members often aren’t available to provide the type of daily support and input provided by LiSA, she said.
“LiSA is the tool older adults didn’t know they needed,” Josefowitz said.
LiSA can read you a headline, inquire whether you took your medication and connect you with members of your community and opportunities for socialization.
She’ll even ask if you’ve turned off the stove or locked the door, helping to avoid the kind of safety issues that can ultimately threaten one’s ability to live independently.
“Her caring voice and regular prompts that support wellness and connectivity are an extraordinarily wonderful addition to the life of someone living alone,” Josefowitz said.
The 90 percent retention rate of pilot test participants and their testimonials on their experiences bear that out.
A personal assistant with personality
Jane La Duke, 82, said she finds herself using LiSA much more than she ever expected. She doesn’t have a computer or smart phone, and she has vision issues. Mostly she uses LiSA to exchange messages with friends, grandchildren and other family members. “I just thoroughly enjoy it,” said La Duke, who lives in an age-restricted community in San Diego.
“I found it so simple: If you have a message, it lights up nice and bright so you know immediately. To send a message is very simple, just talk into the speaker and say whatever it is you need to say. LiSA will repeat back what she heard you say. You can easily correct it if you need to. There’s no dialing or anything,” she said.
Jean Kerr, an active 75-year-old who keeps busy outside her home with a broad range of activities and friends, enjoyed LiSA’s “company” in the quiet of her mornings.
“It’s another voice in the house and I enjoy the daily reminders and its sense of humor,” Kerr said. “I caught myself laughing aloud to things she said.”
“In my professional life I had an administrative assistant. LiSA is like having one again,” she said.
Kerr is a member of Tierrasanta Village San Diego (TVSD), one of a growing number of nonprofit virtual villages around the country, whose members share social and educational opportunities, as well as a network of service providers and volunteers. A group of TVSD members participated in the four-month pilot test.
“When I was first introduced to LiSA, I thought about my mother, who spent the last 30 years of her life pretty much homebound and suffered from macular degeneration,” Kerr said. “I thought LiSA would have been a lifesaver for her because she couldn’t read printed material and had a keen interest in what was going on in the world despite the sheer isolation of her life.”
Kerr likes that idea of LiSA being there for her as she ages. She’s already using the technology more than she ever expected. Kerr is a member of the TVSD bridge group, whose members found LiSA a very easy and successful way to get in touch with each other with hands-free group and individual messaging, regardless of their technical abilities, dexterity or vision issues.
Simple set-up, no trepidations
“LiSA has the most functionality designed specifically for seniors and I think its future is unlimited,” said Don Stewart, 66, an IT professional and pilot tester from TVSD. Its natural voice-first interface for older adults eliminates the trepidation of having to deal with a keyboard or computer programs or applications, Stewart said. By addressing users by name and incorporating humor, LiSA feels more personal and less rigid or robotic, he said.
“It is far less complicated, by far, than it is to setup a smart phone,” Stewart said.
“I think this is going to widen the audience for people to do more with their computers,” he said joking that he’s been waiting for this voice-activated computer going back to the mid-1960s, when Star Trek had a talking computer. “I’m impressed with the job Cuida Health has done trying to address a need and knowing they are building something that has the potential to help a lot of people.”
Cuida Health is a leader in adapting voice-first technology for seniors. Our mission is to help older adults avoid the isolating effects of aging in order to live active and independent lives. We specialize in creating conversational personalities for consumer voice-assisted devices that help seniors expand connections with friends and family, stay socially active and focus on both their emotional and physical health. Find out more at cuidahealth.com.