Making TV Useful For My 94-yr-old Aunt

Written by: Frank Engelman. Posted: August 14, 2020. 


Photo by Mariia Chalaya 


This is about how I took advantage of the ubiquity of TV in the lives of many older adults.  By adding various "smart" integrations, I turned the TV from simply a source of background noise into a useful tool — that helps my 94-yr-old aunt accomplish all sorts of things she previously had trouble with.



The Ubiquity of TV

Most of my older friends and relatives are very attached to their TVs. This is the case even if they don’t care that much about what’s playing on them. Sometimes they are just on for background noise or to hide the feeling of being alone.

If you ever visited a nursing home, you have seen how every room has a TV on, and the residents aren’t even watching it.



Helping My 94-yr-old Aunt

I’d like to tell you a story about my 94-year old Aunt, who lives alone 2500 miles away.

I only get to visit her once a year, so when I’m there, I try to do as much as I can to make her retirement years enjoyable.


I Started With Alexa Calling

Setting up Alexa Calling on an Echo Show for her and her son, as well as contacting me, was the first step.

But that’s only a diversion, at best, for once a week.

  • (Learn how to set up Alexa Calling here. Learn what the Longevity Explorers think of the Echo Show here.).


Too Many Remotes

My Aunt had a pretty complicated TV setup. She had one remote for the TV, another for the cable box, another for Apple TV, and another for a DVD player.

She was playing “remote jockey” all the time and trying to remember which one did what.

Even when she could get something playing on the TV, it was never what she wanted as all the shows are on a “TV schedule” — and one that was not hers!


Amazon Fire Cube TV Let Me Consolidate Remotes

My first order of business was to consolidate all of this into an Amazon Fire TV Cube, thereby reducing the number of remotes.

This is one of the big strengths of the Fire TV Cube: it lets you consolidate multiple remotes together. This is a key reason I choose it for this type of project, compared for example to AppleTV — which is also an excellent video streamer, but which does not address the "remote control clutter" that makes the lives of many people frustrating.


On Demand Shows

I was also able to show her the vast array of “on-demand” shows of her choosing, on HER schedule, on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and, more recently YouTube!


Background Nature Shows: Better than Soaps?

YouTube provides an interesting “background” option in that you can run high-quality nature videos running 1-8 hours. This would be much more entertaining than daytime TV shows in a nursing home.

For example, the 4K Relaxation Channel on YouTube.

If you like the sound of this, here is an article I wrote on how to set up background videos:



Ask Alexa for Her Shows

When I showed her that she could even ask Alexa to display a show of her choice with Alexa picking up where she left off in the show last time, she was amazed.

For example, she can now say “Alexa, watch the Blue Plant Planet on Netflix.”

She can also view the cable channel of her choice without fumbling with remotes by saying: “Alexa, watch channel 56 on cable



Caller ID on the TV

But I didn’t stop there. She also uses a wall-mounted land-line based “caption phone” where she can see the text of what the person is saying since she is hard of hearing even with hearing aids.

The problem was that she has difficulty walking, and when she is sitting in her lazy boy chair, it's tough to get up and walk to the phone to see who is calling. She gets a lot of spam calls. She also plays the TV loud and may not hear the phone ring.

Faced with this problem, I added some features that allowed her to see the caller ID on the TV and even pause the show on an incoming call from the phone OR Alexa Calling from her son.



Calendar Reminders & Security Cameras on the TV

Her son also puts reminders on her Google Calendar, and she can verbally ask about those through her Echo Show or Fire TV Cube. I also set up on Alexa Reminders to appear on the TV.

She also has a lot of outdoor security cameras and can ask for those to be displayed on her Echo Show or Fire TV.

  • Stay tuned for detailed instructions on how to do that in a future article.



Video Doorbell on TV

My next project is to get her a Ring Video Doorbell and automatically display that on her Echo Show and Fire TV Cube along with a personalized audible reminder to caution her about opening the door. For example, “Bernice, there is someone at the door. Please check the camera before opening the door”.



Controlling the Lights

One final point, she also uses her Echo Show and Fire TV Cube to control the lighting in her home. It works well with those “hard-to-turn” twist controls on chair-side and bed-side lights without having to stretch.

  • Stay tuned for detailed instructions on how to do that in a future article.



Descriptive Audio

One feature I’ll be describing below was of no use to my Aunt, namely Descriptive Audio, worked very well for a family friend who was losing their sight. This feature provides narration when the show has action, but the actors are not speaking.



Get Detailed "How To" Instructions: Fire TV Cube

For a Detailed set of "How To" Instructions for doing all of the above things, see "How to Set Up an Amazon Fire TV Cube".



More DIY Solutions from this Author

See more of Frank Engelman's DIY Solutions in his "column" below.





Disclaimer: The author used several Amazon products to accomplish the things described in this article. He is not compensated by Amazon. 



*Disclosure: If you use the links above when you buy products we write about, we may earn commissions from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate or other affiliate program participant. This does not affect the price you pay.

In some cases, we ask the vendor to loan us the products we review (so we don't need to buy them). Beyond this, we have no financial interest in the products discussed here, and this article is not sponsored or supported in any way by any product vendor. See How we Fund our Work.



Reader Comments: "Making TV Useful For My 94-yr-old Aunt"


from Shay (unverified) at August 24, 2020

This is such an informative and well-explained guide! I plan to pass this article on to friends and family. Thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge.


from TheFam (unverified) at August 25, 2020

Well done sir! Keep up the great work.


from Jack Cumming (unverified) at August 31, 2020

Does the Fire TV Cube have the same Cable TV connectivity that Independa supports with its age-friendly solution?


from faengelm (member) at September 01, 2020

Hello Jack,

I haven't seen an Independa TV so it's hard for me to compare Cable TV capabilities. I looked at their website and couldn't find any details on its Cable TV features. Maybe someone who has one could comment on its cable capabilities. From the remote, it just looks like up/down channel control

But, I can tell you that my Aunt, who has a Fire TV Cube, can say these commands for cable

  • "Alexa, turn on/off TV"
  • "Alexa, watch channel 56 on cable"
  • The non-cable controls are even more impressive such as going to a specific show
  • "Alexa, watch Heartland on Netflix"


from Shel Symonds (unverified) at September 04, 2020

Frank, thank you for this article. I, too, have a 94 year old aunt, and I'm inspired to do this for her and her tv. I love that a familiar object can be made so useful. That's value added technology. Thank you again for expanding my horizons.


from Jay R Franke (member) at September 09, 2020

Is there any marketplace competition to the Amazon Fire Cube?  IS there any (good) source of comparative information? 


from faengelm (member) at September 09, 2020

Hello Jay,

Below are a few reviews of the “add-on” competitors to Fire TV Stick and Cube.

You can also buy smart TVs with Alexa, Google Assistant, Bixby, SmartThings, Roku, or Fire TV built into the TVs

Also, various cable and satellite providers offering Smart TV boxes

In my opinion, Fire TV Cube is the best all-around device offering unmatched voice control of show selection as well as interfacing with other Amazon products such as Echo Devices and home automation


Reviews to look at:



from Kim Eggener (unverified) at March 07, 2021

I'm setting up the Fire TV Cube for my 95 year old mother who is blind and have every thing working except for one thing. It will make calls out, like with the alexa echo, but won't receive incoming calls.

Does it not receive incoming calls other than video calls?

What am I missing?


from faengelm (member) at March 08, 2021

Hello Kim,

I have a few questions for you.

Does your mom have any other Amazon Echo devices? Are they able to receive incoming Alexa calls?

If its just the Fire TV Cube, it may be that its ringer is turned off.

On her Fire TV Cube, using her remote control:

  • Tap the Home button
  • Tap Settings
  • Scroll down and tap Alexa
  • Tap Communications
  • Turn on incoming Call Ringer

If that was not the problem and if she has no other Echo devices to check incoming calls, please be sure that you are saying this command to Alexa when calling her.

“Alexa, call XXX’s Alexa Devices”  where XXX is whatever your mom’s contact name is in your Alexa account

Alexa may be trying to call the phone number assigned to her account, rather than her Alexa device (Fire TV Cube)

I assume that your mom has her own Alexa account. If she is on your Alexa account, you will have to make the call to her Fire TV Cube’s device name.

“Alexa, call YYY” where YYY is mom’s Fire TV Cube device name (Not her Alexa Contact name)



from Kim Eggener ([email protected]) (unverified) at May 20, 2021

Not sure we're on the same page. My Mom has an echo dot that I've linked to the fire tv cube. I'm using AT&T's NumberSync for her to make and receive calls with her AT&T mobile phone completely hands free. What I'm wondering is can I eliminate the echo dot and just use the fire tv cube for her to receive and make calls to a from non-echo devices? She does have her own Alexa account.


from faengelm (member) at May 20, 2021

Hello Kim,

I’m sorry for the confusion as I thought you were asking about audio-only Alexa calls.

With regard to actual phone calls, since you are using AT&T NumberSync, you can place AND receive phone calls on Echo AND Fire TV devices.

I just checked with my Fire TV Cube and AT&T NumberSync and it works great… even with the TV off.

So, there is no need for the Echo device unless your Mom needs a mic & speaker closer to her.


from Kim Eggener ([email protected]) (unverified) at May 21, 2021

Thank you. Much appreciated.

My 95 Mother just recently went blind due to macular degeneration and using the amazon echo/fire products is the only way I have found that allows here to control her TV, make and receive phone calls all hands free. It's her life line to the outside world. Again thanks.


from Kim Eggener ([email protected]) (unverified) at July 11, 2021

Hi Again,

Mom is able to make calls and receive calls quite nicely now with just the fire tv cube and her AT&T NumberSync mobile account.

However, there are two things that are eluding me.
1) When she makes a call or receives a call, the tv sound doesn't automatically mute and
2) We can't seem to access her voice mail from the AT&T account.

Any ideas or assistance with this this would be most appreciated.


from faengelm (member) at July 12, 2021

Hello Kim,
Just to be sure about this, I checked my own Fire Tv Cube and ATT Number Sync.

The good news is that in both receiving phone calls on my Fire TV Cube and also making phone calls from the Fire TV Cube, the TV program that was playing paused. So now we just need to figure out what is different in your Mom’s setup.
My Fire TV is using Fire OS vs and has “Communications” enabled in the Alexa App under:
•    Devices
•    My Fire TV Cube
•    Communications

Here is how I accessed voicemail, which may be a bit confusing to your Mom:
•    I asked the Fire TV to call MY cell phone number
•    I then got an ATT message saying that I was not available
•    I used the Fire TV remote to select the “keypad”
•    I then selected the “*” key
•    I was asked to enter my PIN code
I then could review my cell phone voicemails, just like if I was using the cell phone.

Once you get this working, you may want to look into having your Mom do Alexa Video calling on the big screen. There is even a way to do this using buttons if she has a problem saying the commands.


from Kim Eggener ([email protected]) (unverified) at July 12, 2021

Thanks for the quick response. When you say "My Fire TV is using....." Did you mean fire tv cube or are you using a fire tv and a fire tv cube?

As far as the voice mail., my Mom is completely blind so that won't work for her.

Again thanks.


from faengelm (member) at July 13, 2021

Hello Kim,

I am using a regular TV with an HDMI input to connect to my Fire TV Cube

One other thing to check on your Mom's Alexa app is that ATT is setup for the Fire TV Cube

* Tap more

* Tap Settings

* Tap Communication

*Tap AT&T

Be sure it's enabled and her Fire TV Cube is "checked" 



from Venis Sims (unverified) at July 29, 2022

Hi! Thanks so much for this. Just bought a smart tv for my 82 year old mom. She doesn’t have cable. Just antenna. Can she still tell Alexa to go to the live tv channels in the same way you described telling her to go to cable channels?


from faengelm (member) at July 31, 2022

Hello Venis,

Yes, the Fire TV Cube supports over-the-air TV, and your mom will be able to change channels with her voice.

Here are some great setup instructions

Please note that some users have complained that they have to say a very specific command to get Alexa to tune to the right channel such as "Alexa, tune to KCRA" or "Alexa, tune to channel 3".

If that is a problem for your mom, you could look into adding "Custom Actions" in Alexa Routines to make the command simpler or accept multiple ways of saying the command 

Here is an article that may help  Solution: Make Alexa Proactive: Create Routines 


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Last Updated: June 10, 2021.

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