Life expectancy worldwide has risen, thanks to advancements in medicine and the overall improvement in the quality of life. However, this has given rise to a catastrophic timebomb that could detonate any time. As the average age is rising, so is the number of older people. Japan currently has one-third of its population above the age of 65 years. The US will soon have more people over 65 years of age than ones under 18 years for the first time.
Thus, caring for elderly people would require millions of nurses and a considerable investment in infrastructure and services. With that being said, AI and robotics can be a stress buster for the elderly. Cognitive and AI-powered robots are currently operating and many more are under development that can take care of the elderly, giving nurses and doctors time for other important tasks. Active assisted living (AAL) robots, socially assistive robots (SAR) or care bots are a few of the types of robots penetrating deeper into the senior care segment.
The Use of AI and Robotics in Senior Care
The eldercare segment has seen quite an incline in terms of AI and robotics. Researchers are developing robots that can help the elders get specific tasks done either with instructions or semi-autonomously. Robots have shown a flex in their abilities over the years and can be a great addition to people living in old-age homes.
Stevie is one of the most famous examples of a socially assistive robot (SAR), tested across various nursing homes, chatting and playing with the elderly. It can do specific cleaning duties and check if any elder is missing from the senior care.
Studies have shown that as people grow older, their mobility and communication with their peer group reduce. Perhaps, this could add to their overall stress and depression. Stevie has proved its mettle by befriending many seniors, helping them cope with loneliness and providing emotional and physical support. It is also used in people with cognitive disorders such as dementia in adults and autism in children.
Stevie can do a hoard of manual chores such as making deliveries or picking up a list of items in a hospital. It can give nursing staff free time to interact with elderly patients instead of wasting a few clinical hours every day on these activities. Robots like Stevie can take over the mundane and routine tasks depending upon the use cases.
Remote monitoring is another application of AI and robotics. Here, nurses can handle more patients than before since it involves going to patients with health issues remotely instead of going to them personally. Robots have been helping with surgeries too, so monitoring and check-ups using robots aren’t directly out of some animated sitcom like The Jetsons.
Mabu is an AI-powered robot that makes tailored conversations with patients. It uses AI to converse with each patient, find out what issues they have and find treatments. It has multiple interfaces to record conversations and advise accordingly. ElliQ, an AI-enabled robot, is another example that helps adults communicate with their family members and others. It aids in reminding patients about their medication, which is a must in cases of dementia. It also reminds older adults to partake in activities to stay healthy.
More robots are doing the rounds of hospitals and senior care facilities than one could assume. A seal-shaped robot called PARO is a popular therapeutic robot for people with dementia. It has helped burst loneliness and depression. Studies show using PARO has results that match pet therapy. Of course, PARO doesn’t require feeding or cleaning, and that’s another upper hand compared to keeping a live pet at home or in any senior care facility.
The loss of mobility in the elder is far more common and it can worsen with age. Researchers at the McGovern Medical School at UTHealth have developed a lightweight robotics-enabled exoskeleton that can help the elderly walk longer without stressing their legs. It is almost 60% lighter than the conventional exoskeleton available and, thus, far cheaper. Perhaps, it can improve the quality of life as elderly people will be able to walk for a longer time than without it.
Another area where robots can have a resonating impact is personal care. Roboticists are working on training robots to help elderly people feed, clean and dress, among other tasks. When it comes to dressing someone, it takes more than a robotic arm to dress; rather, robots must understand how the fabric interacts with the body and exert pressure accordingly. Artificial intelligence is a breakthrough technology that can help robots understand real-life situations and instill common sense into them.
Other activities like moving an older adult from place to place, i.e., chair to bed and vice versa, washing and feeding are areas where robots can master in helping the seniors get tasks done autonomously or as programmed.
With the ongoing growing numbers of elderly people and insufficient nursing staff to take care of them, robots can bring about a revolutionary change in the lives of those older adults. Robots can handle any mundane and repetitive tasks, either taking instructions or being in a semi or fully autonomous mode. They can readily provide an added exoskeleton for older people with mobility issues.
Researchers can use robots to remind people about their medications and physical activities from time to time. They can further enhance the monitoring of vital signs either at home or at a hospital. These make cognitive robotics relevant in society with an enormous count of older people.