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Every morning for the last four months, an alert has popped up on my phone, saying, "First activity of the day detected for Michael at 4:39 AM." Thankfully, I don't. When I am awake and scrolling through my notifications, I am told that my dad is up and moving around in Florida.

In January, we started a trial of the new service from Amazon that uses its digital assistant to keep an eye on a family member or loved one. Six months of the service is bundled with the $130 Echo Show 8 and you can get a 6-month free trial if you already have an echo device. I was kept informed here in South Carolina without having to remember to call or check in, thanks to the help of my father's interactions with Amazon's voice-controlled devices in his home in Florida.

Why do you want this service? It is easier for older Americans to stay in their homes with the help of technology. It is possible for caregivers who don't live with an aging loved one to maintain a constant connection through those smart devices and get help more easily and quickly.

It is not the first service to offer features like this, but it is the most affordable and accessible. If you are familiar with the app and the devices, it is easy to set up and manage.

Buy for $19.99 from Amazon

A key feature of the US-only service is a direct line to a 24/7. urgent response service, where trained agents can request dispatch in an emergency or contact a friend or family member. It adds a hands-free way to get help, which could be crucial if my dad fell down and couldn't reach a phone. All he has to do is call out, "Alexa, I need help," and the speaker would connect him with an operator.

We did test it out and it worked as advertised. The response center answered the call within three rings when Dad asked again, "Alexa, call for help." They knew who he was because he could hear and talk to the operator.

I received a text message immediately when my dad called Urgent Response, then I got notifications from the Alexa app following through on the event.

I received a text message when my dad connected with the service, but I don't know if it was a notification or not. The app followed up with notifications when the call was over, prompting me to check in.

There are many well-known Wearable Medical Alert Devices that carry out a similar function, and an Apple Watch can connect you to emergency services with its SOS feature, plus newer models have fall detection capability. Wearables require someone to wear them. If that's an issue with your loved one, it's a good option.

If the internet went down, the power went out, or my dad tripped in the garden, it wouldn't be worth it. It was a perfect way to introduce the concept of smart home tech to my parents. I've been trying to get my dad to use smart home devices for years, but this is the first time anything has worked.

Dropping in on my Dad’s Echo Show 8 using an Echo Show 10.

Alexa Together: Setup, features, and testing

My father is in his 70s. He lives with my mother, who is the same age, and they have had phones for a while. They turn them off when they don't use them. Boomer generation people are more comfortable with computers than they are with phones. They still have a phone. They are familiar with smart devices, but mostly because they visit me.

It was easy to set them up with the service and we did it all over the phone. I wanted to walk through it with my dad to make sure he was comfortable with what he was getting into. There are a lot of privacy concerns around using the service in your home, and we have addressed the data privacy features of the service in our sidebar. This service is not for you if you are not comfortable using it.

Setting up the show in his house was the most challenging part of the process. None of the calling features worked at first because he accidentally enabled Amazon Kids Plus. Both parties need to log into their Amazon accounts. The care receiver needs a speaker. If you want to add a lot of additional smart home devices, consider the Echo Show 10, which has a smart home hub built in, as it has a screen and camera for video calling.

The activity alerts Alexa Together sends.

The care receiver needs to verify their mobile phone number with a text message and their address for the emergency response. After I accepted the terms and services and provided his email address, I had to create a pin for the part of the app I wanted to use. This is where I can see his activity feed and help him remotely.

When the service first launched in December of last year, it was promised a Circle of Support feature. This allows up to 10 people to be caregivers and one who can manage the remote assist feature. If one half of the couple is more active and out and about than the other, adding the care receiver's spouse as one will be helpful.

My dad was given an Amazon smart plug, an Amazon Echo Show, and aPhilips Hue light bulb to try out with his voice assistant. The setup retails for around $250. The minimum amount of kit you'll need for a three-bedroom home is what he received, and it's the only thing you'll need to start. The main feature of the activity feed is that it requires the care receiver to actually use it by interacting with devices such as smart lights or smart plugs.

You can tie in third-party fall detection devices to the service for an upfront cost but no monthly fees. The $250 Vayyar Care is a wall-mounted device that uses sensors and radio waves to detect a human figure falling.

With the knowledge that he was in some way communicating with me by using them — my dad started to ask Alexa to turn on the light

I put a first-gen Echo Show in my parents home a few years ago, and they use it mostly as a picture frame. With the new smart home gadgets and the knowledge that he was in some way communicating with me by using them, my dad started to askAlexa to turn on the light or turn off the lamp. The assistant was being used for more things than just their shopping list.

The activity feed and alerts are the main feature of the service. The feed is housed in the app and gives a view of the interactions of the care receiver without revealing which 1950s rocker my dad was listening to. If no activity is detected in that time, the service will send you an alert, which you can adjust. I was anxious about receiving the daily alert because they don't always arrive at the same time.

The one time I got a no activity alert, I immediately called their phone. Everyone was okay, but their routine had changed. I was impressed that it was detected byAlexa. Anomalies are indicators of health and well-being when it comes to elder care. There was only a change in routine.

The Alexa Together interface is in the Alexa app, this shows the home page, activity feed, and Remote Assist settings.

Setting up motion or contact sensor integration in this area would be useful if they walked past it. The setup required most of the interactions to be active. The 4th generation echo dot can detect when someone is near it and send an alert. Only the first motion event will register, general motion detection won't show up in the activity feed, and if you only have one or two devices, it could easily be missed.

When a medicine cabinet is opened, or if there is motion in the bathroom, you can set up compatible contact and motion sensors with the help of a smart home hub. I wasn't able to test any of this with the equipment we had, but you would have to scroll through the feed to see the activity as you can personalize the alert. I would like to know when my dad took his medicine so I could set up an alert. You can only be alert to no activity and first activity.

Concerns about how the data they collect is protected are brought about by bringing connected devices into your home. The company whose smart home products we review has safeguards in place for your data.

According to Amazon, the primary data they collect is information needed to provide and improve their customers experience. Amazon's cloud houses voice recordings and transcripts from requests. Customers have the option to remove this information at any time.

The data that is shared with the caregivers is a high-level summary of recent activity with the smart home devices. For example, a loved one's use of their devices for entertainment or recipes will be visible to their caregivers, but not the song they were listening to or recipe they were using.

The option to not have voice recordings saved is one of the specific data controls that can be managed in theAlexa app and theAlexa Privacy Hub.

I could have used the Drop-In feature if my dad hadn't answered the phone. If they give you permission in the app, you can Drop In on other people's devices. You can go into the care receiver's account using Remote Assist and enable it on each speaker. The person doesn't have to actively answer the call, so you can watch the show and hear what's happening. There is an audible warning when a Drop-In starts and the feed is fuzzy for a few minutes to give you the chance to move out of the way. It's less intrusive than having a dedicated security camera in my parent's home, something I know people looking after family members from afar have tried to use, with mixed results.

I found Remote Assist to be helpful. It was much easier to deal with tech support requests over the phone. I was able to use Remote Assist to adjust settings on my Dad's devices in Florida. I could change the wake word, turn off Do Not Disturb, and enable Drop-In. It allows me to set reminders for him to take his medication, which would audibly and visually appear on his speakers. I can add things to his shopping list, add contacts, and set up music and podcasts services for him.

These features are not free for all. I only have access to certain things. This does feel limiting, and features I couldn't access didn't make sense. I had to walk him through the Amazon Kids controls over the phone because I couldn't turn them off. What you can and can't do feels random. The interface is very slow at times.

“We have looked upon the expanded system as an asset not an intrusion”

I wanted to be able to create routines remotely, but that feature is on the way. I couldn't test it out, but the company provided some examples of what you can do, such as setting up a routine that will start when my dad turns off his alarm, and playing the news. Setting up a goodnight routine whereAlexa will turn off smart lights and play sleep sounds is one example. Whenever a routine is set up for the care receiver, they will get an email from Amazon.

The service was helpful, too, as my dad said it was reassuring knowing that I could turn on one of the two new smart lights. He has started to use the system more, and he likes it.

You need an Echo smart speaker to use Alexa Together. An Echo Show 8 is one of the better options, as you can video call and Drop In with your loved one.
Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge

Alexa Together: Should you subscribe?

I found all of these features useful, but they are not worth $20 a month. The Urgent Response feature adds another layer of peace of mind and is what you are paying for. As long as my dad can talk, he can get help. You can set up an Emergency Contact feature for free. You can designate a contact as someone who will call and text when they say, "Alexa, call for help."

If you're an OnStar member, you can use the same features as if you're on the other side of the world. Ring or Simplisafe is a monitored security system that has a similar low cost for monthly professional monitoring but comes with a higher upfront equipment cost, plus they need help installing it.

Alexa Together is relatively inexpensive and easy to use

I would like to see a free tier ofAlexa Together without urgent response, with the option to upgrade when you want to. I think it's limiting that someone can only use this service with a spouse or live-in care giver. Many caregivers who live with the person they care for will find this service helpful if they travel or work out of the house.

Overall, I think that the system has the potential to get smarter and more valuable. Compared to a lot of smart home products and medical alert devices that try to achieve similar results, it is relatively inexpensive and easy to use. Even though my parents are hundreds of miles away, I feel connected to them throughout the day.

The photos were taken by Tuohy.

Every smart device now requires you to agree to a series of terms and conditions before you can use it. It is impossible for us to read and analyze all of these agreements. We're going to start counting how many times you have to use devices when we review them since they are agreements most people don't read.

To use the service, you'll need to download the app. An Amazon account is required to use. Signing up for one of those requires you to agree to its conditions of use.

You will need a smart speaker or display to use it. You agree to a number of terms when you add one to the app. By proceeding, you agree to Amazon's conditions of use and all of the terms found here.

Below are the terms that you must agree to in order to explore the documentation.

  • Alexa Terms of Use
  • Amazon Conditions of Use
  • Amazon Privacy Notice
  • Children’s Privacy Disclosure
  • Interest-based Ads
  • Amazon Prime Terms
  • Amazon Music Terms of Use
  • Kindle Store Terms of Use
  • Audible Service Conditions of Use
  • Amazon Dash Replenishment Terms of Use
  • Amazon Kids Plus Terms & Conditions
  • Amazon Photos Terms of Use
  • Amp Terms of Use
  • Amazon Device Terms of Use

You also agree to use an Amazon device with a screen.

  • IMDb Legal Information
  • Amazon Video Terms of Use

The final tally was 16 mandatory agreements.