The Future of Elder Care Services Using Robots

Elder Care Robots

What is the future of Elder Care by using Robots? High-tech in care: artificial intelligent helpers should create more space for human attention. But how realistic is that?

No, Martha Ludwig (name changed by the editorial team) does not seem to be happy with the matter. A green plastic mat lies in front of her.

It is a matter of pushing a block made of beech wood through the grooves, which wind in spirals through the plastic – a finger exercise for fine motor skills.

The 83-year-old holds the piece of wood in her left hand and stares at the yellow-washed wall of the common room in the St. Elisabeth nursing home. She prefers home care The Villages. The clacking of a dice cup comes from the next table.

Making contact with plush toy

Everything changes when Carla Meyer shows up. “I brought a surprise with me,” says the occupational therapist as she swaps the training board on the table for a snow-white plush seal. “Our Paro. Do you still know him?”

Martha Ludwig tries to answer. “That, that’s a …” she begins. Ludwig suffers from dementia, so the language sometimes stalls. She runs her hand over the seal’s synthetic fur. Paro whines, wiggles his hind fins and turns his black plastic eyes on Martha Ludwig. The words are still missing. But she shines all over her face.

Is that due to the cute appearance of the stuffed animal or the friendliness of the young therapist? Nobody can say that with certainty, but Meyer is convinced: “Paro is like a door opener. We come into contact with residents who we would otherwise not be able to reach.” For example, people with dementia or seniors who shy away from society.

Great expectations from caring robots

The computer seal from Japan, currently in use in around 100 homes, is something like the vanguard among robots with care tasks. Under the catchphrase Care 4.0, research and politics have high expectations of the intelligent helpers: Robots should help senior citizens to become more independent, relieve caring relatives and give care professionals more time for care. What is it about these promises?

In Stuttgart, the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation has been working to find the best and suitable solutions for elder care since the 1990s. The lead engineer Dr Birgit Graf developed a robot that has already passed initial test runs in nursing homes with flying colours.

It is reminiscent of a pimped-up gas pump on wheels with a steel arm hanging from it instead of a hose. “An artificial butler,” says Graf. “He comes with, for instance, magazines, snacks, and drinks.” While operating, the enthusiastic spirit impresses the residents’ and also explains to them live on screen.

Female robots preferred

The Fraunhofer assistant measures around one and a half meters. It shouldn’t be much bigger in order not to instil fear, says Birgit Lugrin.

The computer science professor from the University of California is concerned with the question of how a robot must be designed so that it can be accepted as a friend and helper.

“Seniors expect a certain formal courtesy in the speech,” says Lugrin. She chose the name Anna for the electronic pearl in her experiments.

“We know from studies that robots that appear feminine are preferred. A robot should have facial expressions and eyes – but under no circumstances should it look confusingly similar to humans, “otherwise it will be scary”.

This danger does not exist with Lugrin’s current experimental robot. The model from France could have come from a Mickey Mouse film. Knee-high and with rubber skin, it cannot grab hold of it, but seniors who live alone, serve as loyal companions, remind them to take the medicine or suggest a walk in the sun. With the help of his camera eyes, he could also read the mood of the owner’s face – and react to it.

Films determine our image of robots

Seniors are still strangling something with sister robots. Almost 64 per cent of people aged 60 and over feel the use of robots to care for people is unworthy – among those under 30, only 46 per cent say this. This is what market research found out on behalf of the senior adviser.

“You see in the movies and imagine robots in the real world; note, they’re rarely friendly,” explains Lugrin. But once older people get to know the technology, the tide quickly turns, observes the computer scientist.

What is surprising for the researchers is that people with dementia can easily trust the helpers with electronic brains. The reason for this is unclear, but engineer Birgit Graf has an assumption: “The robots are consistently friendly and patient – no matter who they are in front of.” In addition, they did not give the impression of wanting to direct their counterpart.

Technology must not replace human attention

An ongoing study shows how little fear of contact with modern technology is in dementia sufferers, “although hardly any of our participants have ever had a device like this in their hands,” according to researcher Julie O’ Sullivan. The computers are equipped, among other things, with the special quiz and game programs.

But how much technology and automation can the care take? A nursing researcher Professor Hartmut Remmers has been looking for answers.

The conclusion: “for things that cater to elderly care and facilitate it, for instance, during travelling, is okay. It becomes ethically problematic when technology takes the place of personal attention.” The computer seal Paro has also come under fire – quite a few homes in Germany reject the animated plush toys.

Many activities are too demanding for machines

Engineers also see the limits of technology. “The robot with the washcloth in hand is still a long way off,” says Birgit Graf. The task of caring for a person is too complicated – much more demanding than welding body parts in car manufacturing, which is usually done by robots today. In addition, a device that cares for the sick must be 100 per cent reliable.

Conclusion

Robots in the medical field are revolutionizing the way their capabilities have increased significantly and now they are even capable of taking care of humans.

However, the productive and constructive use of these robots can be positively used in an effective way. For instance, elderly care service has been a talk of the century in the US and demand is continuously increasing.

Tech corporations have come to the point to create AI-based robots to take better care of the elder; this strategy proves to be effective.

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