Understanding the needs of older adults learning to use digital home assistants: A demonstration study

Kenneth A. Blocker, Travis Kadylak, Wendy A. Rogers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Voice-activated digital home assistants (e.g., Amazon Echo) have potential to support older adults, especially those aging with disabilities who may require unique in-home assistance. However, our understanding of the learning and continued use needs for this population, as well as the impact of these devices on feelings of companionship, is still developing with more research needed to inform this space. Objective: The objective was to improve our understanding of the training needs for older adults with limited or no experience using voice-activated digital home assistants. Moreover, we sought to learn how digital home assistants could support older adults with disabilities in their home environment by exploring facilitators and barriers to their adoption. Methodology: We performed remote, longitudinal interviews with seven older adults with and without disabilities who had little to no experience using digital home assistants and were provided devices from a local community organization. In addition, we focused on three individual case studies to provide additional context for their specific uses and needs. Results: Participants expressed mostly positive opinions toward the devices with nearly all participants finding the device useful and easy to use. Many viewed the device as a companion, highlighting the potential for reducing loneliness. Entertainment and time management features were most utilized. Although participants faced challenges in using the device (e.g., phrasing commands), they still expressed interest in future uses and features. Participants generally found the instructional materials (i.e., printed instructional manual and analogous support videos) both useful and easy to use. Conclusions: These findings not only demonstrated the utility, instructional needs, facilitators and barriers, and the potential for social companionship of these devices among older adults, but also informed recommendations on how to better design these devices to support the diverse older adult population in accepting and integrating them into their lives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2023


  • aging
  • instructional support
  • technology acceptance
  • technology learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Gerontology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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