Robots Helping The Elderly

In an age when people are living longer, healthcare systems and resources are being strained, with elderly people facing challenges like loneliness, more research is being carried out into how robots could bridge the care gap.

The Challenges

The global population is ageing. In the UK alone, for example, people are having fewer children and living longer lives. By 2040, nearly one in seven people is projected to be aged over 75 (UK Government figures) and this will mean that public spending will need to increase, and already stretched care systems will be under unprecedented pressures. Meeting the caring and or nursing needs of the elderly, as well as addressing companionship issues, are likely to be major issues facing us all in years to come.

How Can Robots Help?

Research into (and the development of) ‘robo-nurse’ and ‘robo-carer’ devices has been taking place over several years now. Examples include:

  • A robot receptionist called Nadine at the Institute of Media Innovation in Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University. Nadine uses AI, and is capable of autonomous behaviour. The ability to recognise people and human emotions, and make associations using a knowledge database could mean that this type of robot has potential as a nurse for elderly people.
  • A robo-pet ‘baby seal’ called ‘Paro’. Developed in Japan, the units (5,000 of which are already in use) respond to touch and are designed to make eye contact. The therapeutic effects of these pets have been reported to include the improvement of symptoms such as depression, anxiety and stress in dementia patients. There is also evidence that ‘Paro’ units have helped non-verbal patients to speak again. Medical commentators have highlighted the potential for robo-pets like Paro to help with treatments for post-traumatic stress disorders, neuro-cognitive rehabilitation for stroke patients, help for children on the Autism-spectrum, and help with pain management or palliative care patients.
  • Robot units that can monitor aspects of patients’ health, administer some aspects of care and medication, and send alerts when needed.

Ethical And Security Issues

Some security and technology commentators have highlighted possible ethical and security issues with the use of robotic solutions. Protection and the ethical use of the personal data gathered about individuals by robots may be a cause for concern. There is also an argument that the use of robots may simply mean that elderly patients are more isolated, and will miss out on many of the factors that real human contact can bring.

IBM Favours IoT

IBM has been reportedly looking more at IoT rather than robot solutions as a more immediately viable option. For example, the company is reported to have experimented with IoT sensors and how they can be used to identify changes in physical conditions or anomalies in a person’s environment. The purpose of this kind of sensor is to understand a person’s habits and to spot potentially significant changes to those habits remotely. This will enable the care provider to respond accordingly.

Costs Of Robots A Big Concern

Health and care budgets here in the UK are stretched anyway. With the current likely costs of individual robots running into thousands of pounds, the idea of providing robot nurses and carers on a large scale may still be some way off.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The development and merging of technologies such as AI, robotics, IoT and smart technologies, could present a realm of new business opportunities and opportunities for innovation within existing markets. There appears to be a broad consensus that the need for all kinds of scalable care solutions for the elderly and the sick exists, and will become greater over time. This represents major potential markets for the right technology-based products and services.

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