The issue is two fold. First: An increase in older adults. Second: A shortage of caregivers. The number of people over 60 will more than double to 2.1 billion by 2050, according to the United Nations.
Worldwide, people are looking for ways to respond to the expected shortage of caregivers. This shortage is expected to reach 450,000 by 2025. The future of elder care may be in view: Robot Caregivers.
Many of the Robot Caregivers focus on social assistance.
A fluffy seal, that reduces stress, and elicits a glow of happiness. A software, that reminds users to take medications, play brainteaser puzzles, and suggests music. A software, that engages users with interactive questions. A device to encourage individuals to eat, go for a walk or take medication.
Robotic caregivers take many shapes and forms. Different models and innovations and are currently being developed to offer a helping hand to elderly adults. These technology solutions provide care and companionship—especially where people show signs of early cognitive or physical decline.
Let’s meet a few of the rising stars:
Paro is a plush, white device, looking like a baby seal. It responds to touch, light, noise and temperature—moving its head, legs and making sounds.
The robot was invented by Takanori Shibata, a chief research scientist at Japan’s Human Informatics Research Institute, and National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST).
Paro provides emotional support, and based on how it is stroked or looked at responds. The idea is that as users comfort the baby seal, they are also comforting themselves. The device is intended to have a calming and soothing effect for patients in hospitals, nursing homes and care facilities.
Japan is experiencing a rapidly growing aging population, and has adopted the use of socially assistive robots. Several retirement homes used Paro to sooth and calm residents after the devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in 2011. Paro is the 8th generation of a design that’s been in use in Japan and Europe since 2003.
In studies, the robot has been reported to improve mood of its users, offering some valued relief from depression and anxiety.
Unlike Paro, Elli is a small modular lamp. It engages older people with proactive encouragement to go for an outside walk, watch an educational video, or listen to music. It also simplifies the tasks of connecting, by offering video, text and photo messaging.
Elli has a tagline of being “the sidekick for happier aging.” It will be interesting to see how it evolves and shapes the future of interaction in older adults.
Mau is a 15-inch yellow robot, helping heart patients. Inventors working in conjunction with American Heart Association (AHA) are focusing on helping patient’s track medication and boost activity levels.
Mau is provides patient engagement for chronic care management. The robot is in offered through pharmaceutical companies, and health systems such as Kaiser.
This elder-focused human-like ipal Robot focuses on social assistance needs. It is designed to coach and educate older adults with reminders and information about achieving and maintaining good health. It offers a blend of care and companionship for seniors. It provides security with alerts for medical emergencies such as falling.
The ipal began shipping in China late in 2018. The company is working to bring iPal to the U.S. market.
Nothing will replace human connection, touch and care. People need and rely on human contact for intimacy, understanding and interaction. In fact, human caregivers have never been more needed or more valued.
Not everyone loves the Robot Caregiver concept or realization. Some health practitioners view it as a superfluous tool for keeping people occupied. Others react to relying on algorithms instead of human empathy and kindness. Some professionals have ethical concerns about using technology to manage human interaction.
Naturally, human care cannot be replaced. However, many overworked medical professionals are seeing that there is a place and time for using this form of technology.
Yet, many users enjoy Robot Caregivers. Studies and stories show that these tech-companions provide comfort, mood elevating and become an object of attachment. Amongst elderly patients in a hospital setting, Robots are assisting individuals to get involved, stay activity. Robot caregivers are encouraging users to increase social interaction and help loneliness.
What’s key? Keep an open mind. Robot Caregivers may provide much needed social interaction for older adults.
As the world grapples with an increasing aging population and an increasing shortage of human caregivers, technology may fulfill a true need.
With innovation and ongoing development, look to Robot Caregivers to play an increasingly important role in the future of elder care.