MY LIFE: How Amazon’s Alexa has made my life easier

There are two primary “Alexa” products, the Echo Dot…

And the full-sized Echo…

What are the differences?

The full-sized Echo is a 9-inch speaker that at first glance resembles a tube of Pringles. However, this unit is far more than just a speaker that can play all your favorite tunes from Pandora, Spotify, Prime Music, and more. It can easily become the smart controller for your entire home, connecting to smart lights (like Philips Hue), Nest thermostats, Samsung SmartThings, and much more.

It’s basically a smartphone search appliance without the screen. It can answer questions, read audiobooks, check traffic and weather updates, and essentially act as your voice-activated butler (aside from actually bringing you a snack, though you can use it to order pizza from Domino’s…).

In a somewhat creepy display of semi-AI, the Echo is always connected to Amazon’s Alexa network, which is in the cloud and always getting smarter. The more you use it, the more it learns your preferences, speech patterns, and vocabulary, to better deliver on what you’re asking for.

You’ll want the Echo if you want the total package. If you want a whole-home control center coupled with a decent speaker, then the Echo is your best choice. It’s an especially prudent choice if you already have your home rigged with smart devices. This one is designed to truly integrate with your home and therefore become a relatively permanent fixture. It comes in white and black and is $179.99.

The Echo Dot is essentially the Echo’s “Mini-Me.” It has a smaller, quieter speaker and, in size, is more akin to a hockey puck. It does everything the Echo does, but also has a 3.5mm output jack and Bluetooth connectivity, allowing you to connect it to your current sound system. Truly, it’s as though someone just decapitated the Echo and then scrunched up the full-size speaker and jammed it up into the neck, and boom, the Dot.

Connect to and control all of your smart home devices, as well as your existing audio set-up, making the Dot perhaps the most desirable of the Echo family, especially since it’s only $50.

Now that you know all about the Echo and the Echo Dot, let me introduce you to Alexa. Alexa is an intelligent personal assistant developed by Amazon and made popular by the Amazon Echo suite of products. It is capable of voice interaction, music playback, making to-do lists, setting alarms, streaming podcasts, playing audiobooks, and providing weather, traffic, and other real time information.

How can Echo and particularly Alexa help me manage my chronic illness?

The awesome Julie from one of my favorite blogs, Counting My Spoons, recently did a post about this. I took parts of that and added my own experiences.

1. Remind you about meds – if you take medications at certain times of the day you can ask Alexa to remind you to take your meds. Reminders can be set for a single time or daily. This can also be great if you are helping to care for someone who is ill. You may not be able to be there to remind them to take their meds, but you can ask Alexa to do it for you.

2. Keep up with your shopping list – How many times have you gotten to the store only to realize you left your list on the fridge? Now, instead of having the family write items on that magnetic notepad, you can have them ask Alexa to add items to your list. Then when you get to the store just open the Alexa app in your phone and the list will be right there.

3. Confirm your schedule – how many times have you completely forgotten about a doctor’s appointment? Alexa can be linked to your Google calendar and once done all you have to do is ask “Alexa What’s Up?” and she’ll tell give you your agenda for the day.

4. Stay Entertained – Sometimes you just don’t have the focus to watch TV or read a book, but Alexa will keep you entertained. She can read to you from whatever Kindle book you are currently enjoying, play your favorite podcasts or music, and there are even options for interactive stories.

5. Laugh a Little – Laughter is the best medicine, but sometimes there’s no one around to make you smile let alone laugh. But, Alexa always has a joke ready for you. Some of them are cringe-worthy, but even those are entertaining.

6. Meditate – There are several Alexa skills (aka apps) that will play a variety of meditations, allowing you get centered and focused throughout the day.

7. Order Meals – So many times when we live with chronic illness we find ourselves without the energy to cook a meal. When we are stuck at home alone this can be a problem. But, Alexa can help. Your options are dependent upon where you live, but at minimum you can order Domino’s pizza with nothing but the sound of your voice. (Now, if Alexa could just open the door, pay the pizza guy, and bring the pizza to your bed…)

8. Track Your Symptoms – with the “My Nurse Bot” skill enabled you can track your symptoms, get medication reminders, and track your appointments. It will even email you a health summary you can print it out and take to the doctor.

9. Get a Ride – You can easily use Alexa to call for an Uber or Lyft to get you to your Dr appointment, or well… anywhere you need to go. No need to be stuck at home.

10. Pay Your Bills – if you bank at Capitol One you can set up a skill to have Alexa pay bills for you. So, if you are like me and prefer not to have bills paid on the set schedule that banks typically want to set up, now you can just ask Alexa to pay your rent.

11. Keep Your Mind Active – No one around to play games with? Alexa can do that, too. Enable Jeopardy and you can play along or play alone.  There’s also a Spelling Bee skill to keep your spelling skills sharp.

12. Relax – Want to relax to the sound of rain on the rooftop, a summer storm, or ocean waves? Just tell Alexa to play the sound and she will turn it on so that you can tune the world out.

13. Exercise – You need to exercise but you don’t know what to do and you don’t want to spend a lot of time doing it? The 7-minute work-out skill is just one of the skills that will get you moving.

Have you begun using Alexa or other smart devices to make your life with chronic illness easier? If so, I’d love for you to share your tips and tricks in the comments below.

Only $49.99 and totally worth it!

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