For nearly two years, the Mid-America Regional Council’s Area Agency on Aging has pilot-tested a smart speaker app that can be used by eligible clients to order food from the comfort of their own home.
The app uses voice commands through an Amazon Echo smart speaker to open the “Show-Me Pantry” ordering system so participants can request items from vegetable, fruit, grain, protein, dairy and general food groups.
The food app test project, formally entitled Connecting Home-Delivered Meals Clients to Food Pantry Resources Using Smart Speaker Technology, was recognized by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a) with a 2019 Aging Innovations Award , the highest honor presented by n4a to member agencies. The award recognizes aging programs that develop and implement cutting-edge approaches to support older adults, people with disabilities and their family caregivers. MARC’s AAA was among the top 16 of 48 local aging programs to receive honors during the n4a Annual Conference & Tradeshow in New Orleans this week.
Participants in the food app pilot project were already enrolled in a home-delivered meal program for supplemental nutrition, so there was no additional charge for using the smart speaker app. Users were provided 12-month internet access, if necessary, and given instructions on how to use the devices. The app guided users through the process of ordering foods — like veggies, peanut butter, bread or canned tuna — using prompts such as, “Order the food you need for the next two weeks,” and, “Each package of carrots has three carrots; how many packages would you like to order?” Orders were filled by partner food pantries and delivered by other partner organizations. Since the app can be used entirely through voice commands, it’s also suitable for participants with vision impairment. The pilot project concluded that high-risk older people can benefit from this technology and are ready for and capable of using it. While the pilot project is drawing to a close, the results indicate a high potential for future use of technology to help older adults.
“n4a is thrilled to present the Aging Innovations and Achievement Awards to a diverse and talented group of Area Agencies on Aging,” said Sandy Markwood, Chief Executive Officer of n4a. “These AAAs have developed truly innovative programs in their communities to better meet the needs of older adults, people with disabilities and their caregivers. From programs that focus on healthy aging or transportation to nutrition or housing, we commend them all and urge them to continue creating great programs like the ones highlighted in this year’s 2019 Aging Innovations and Achievement Awards,” Markwood said.