Alexa, Mom’s Friend
Reflections of a daughter
by Judy Wagner, CPA
As an introduction, my name is Judy Wagner and I have just finished a long journey with my Mom, who had Lewy Body Dementia with Parkinson’s symptoms. Mom passed away in February 2019 after being diagnosed for five years and struggling with dementia for maybe eight years in total. As further background, my Dad, who passed away five years before Mom, was the technology guru in our family. If there was a new gadget, Dad had to have it. As a child, I remember Dad watching the original Star Trek on TV and Captain James T. Kirk asking “Computer” to do various things. When Amazon released its Echo device with Alexa, it was like the Star Trek computer was in my house. I could ask Alexa all sorts of questions by just talking. As an aside, it is a call-out to Star Trek that one of the Echo’s wake words is not only Alexa and Amazon (of course), but also “Computer.”
During this time, Mom’s mind and body were both under attack from the Lewy Body and Parkinson’s, so I got Mom an Alexa. It was voice activated, easy to set up, and very reliable – and she was always on. Mom couldn’t process the time from a clock any longer and constantly asked what the time was. She would wake up the household at 2am to ask the time. This was a perfect job for Alexa. Mom would say “Alexa, what is the time?” and Alexa would answer. Alexa didn’t care if Mom asked ten times in a row or one hundred times a day. It was great – we put a second Alexa in her bedroom. Mom also liked to know the weather forecast each day – and several times throughout the day. Another job Alexa handled superbly. (When you set up Alexa, you put in your location and she’ll give the local weather.) Mom was losing her voice and mumbling more, but whenever she talked to Alexa, she would use her school teacher’s voice so Alexa could understand her. I’m not sure Mom realized Alexa was a computer. In fact one day, she told me that when she asked Alexa for the time and she heard Alexa’s voice, that all was well with the world. That alone is worth the price of admission!!! Mom would also ask Alexa to play Frank Sinatra songs and Alexa would start the playlist or she would ask Alexa to turn on and off a light. Of course, we have the funny stories on how Alexa would misunderstand things or randomly awake in the middle of the night to play a rap song, but overall Alexa became a friend to Mom, calming her down and answering repetitive questions.
Today there are many video devices and monitors that are also always on. There are so many ways they can be a helpful tool for care partners to someone with dementia. But to me, Alexa remains different. Mom embraced her, almost like an invisible companion, all the time saying she did not use technology. And Mom didn’t use technology, her interaction was just talking to Alexa. Anyway, it’s all bittersweet now. Eventually Mom lost verbal communication, lost her friend Alexa, and then lost her battle with dementia. But I like to think for the time we used her, Alexa made Mom’s quality of life better.
I am Judy Wagner. I am the mother of two grown hearing-impaired children, who are both college-educated and doing very well. I am a wife, a daughter, a sister, a neighbor, a friend. I am also a CPA and have worked for a Fortune 50 company for 40 years in their Controllers organization. When my Mom was diagnosed with Lewy Body dementia six years ago, I had no idea what was ahead for us. I did the best I could with Mom, but most of the time, I had no clue and didn’t know resources such as PAC existed -- or was too busy trying to survive the crisis of the day to realize. Since Mom passed earlier this year, I’ve reflected a lot on the experience and hope my sharing can help others.