AARP Foundation explores the use of voice technology to combat social isolation and loneliness as experienced by lower income seniors.

By Steve Moran

A couple of weeks ago while at the Argentum conference, I spent some time chatting with Mary Ann Donaghy and Brian Jurutka from NIC. They were telling me about a pilot program and mini-grant opportunity from AARP Foundation to explore the use of voice technology to combat social isolation and loneliness as experienced by lower income seniors.   

I was intrigued and last week had a conversation with Ryan Elza who holds the really cool title of Social Entrepreneur in Residence, AARP Foundation, as well as with Gabriela Prudencio, a Program Analyst for the Foundation about the work they are doing.

AARP Foundation

AARP Foundation works to end senior poverty by helping vulnerable older adults build economic opportunity and social connectedness. As AARP’s charitable affiliate, they serve AARP members and nonmembers alike.

Voice Connected Communities

The underlying thinking is that voice technology like the Amazon Echo can be a powerful tool to combat isolation and loneliness. They have created a platform with very specific skills that are designed to combat isolation. The current phase has the devices installed at 5 sites with a total of just under 170 devices. They are looking for at least one community or organization that serves low-income seniors to install 50 devices.

The community will need to supply the devices (Amazon Echo’s or Dot’s) and AARP Foundation will provide a one-time grant that can be used to offset the cost of implementation of the program including staffing. They will also provide the platform and training materials. The community will then be required to provide feedback on the implementation and effectiveness of the system.

Initial results are showing that the system is serving as a powerful behavioral stimulation that increases the likelihood of residents participating in events. It is also enlarging their world and serving as a companion with many participants saying “good morning” and “good night” to their devices.


I have been a bit cynical about AARP because they have not paid much attention to seniors who live in senior living communities (particularly assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing). This to me is a good sign that their thinking is changing.

If I am truthful, it is also a little bit scary . . . in a good way. If a huge organization like AARP starts muddling around our senior living space they will spur innovation and change. It will mean we will be forced into looking at things more creatively and will ultimately make us better.


If you are interested in applying THIS LINK will take you to the request for application document. A couple of notes that may help you:

  • This document shows the application period ending on May 31, 2018. That date is being extended to June 15, 2018

  • The document implies they are looking for a not-for-profit operator. That is not a requirement. This would seem to be a perfect fit for organizations that have Medicaid waiver residents. 

I would love to hear your thoughts about AARP and AARP Foundation paying attention to senior living.