Experts in Japan are using robots to care for older adults, so it is only a matter of time before these electronic companions hit the American shores. The Japanese utilize robots in nursing homes and in the seniors’ own homes. Whether you live far away from your aging parent or in the same town, you might be wondering, Can robots help your older relative age in place at home? With our senior population growing and the number of working-age people decreasing, robots could fill a vital need for elder care.
A Tokyo nursing home uses 20 versions of humanoid robots. Some lead exercise classes, including yoga poses. They offer encouragement in gentle voices. Other models converse with lonely older adults. The Japanese popular media portrays robots as helpful and friendly, so people view them positively.
The robotics gurus must overcome several challenges before robots are likely to find wide acceptance in either Japan or America:
- Robots are expensive. With most seniors living on limited budgets, the devices must be affordable. If they can replace some other expenses like a paid companion, home health care worker or housekeeper, they could pay for themselves in time.
- Safety concerns. Some people fear what could happen if a robot malfunctioned and injured a senior. This issue is troubling for elders who live alone.
- Functionality. We must wait and see if, over time, the robots can perform their tasks as intended in many situations. They must be user-friendly for an aging population that might not be extremely tech-savvy and that often suffers cognitive decline.
Robots and Care Sensors
People in Japan are combining care sensors and robots to keep a nurturing, watchful eye on their older loved ones. The country’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry posits that by the year 2025, there will be 20 times as many elder care robots in use in Japan than there were in 2015. The government is allocating significant capital into developing these robots. Since they expect that by 2065, 40 percent of Japan’s population will be age 65 or older, this policy might be a wise investment.
Here are a few of the elder care robots already in use in Japan:
- Paro looks like a baby seal. The cuddly robotic device calms people with special needs, including dementia and Alzheimer’s. It helps facilitate communication between older patients and their caregivers.
- Robear is a gentle bear-like robot that can assist a senior to stand up or sit down. The bear is strong enough to pick up an older person.
- Telenoid has a microphone and a camera. People can visit remotely with their elderly loved ones.
Robotics engineers have also created care sensors to keep an eye on your aging relative. Care sensors are less expensive than robots. These devices can:
- Track elders at risk of wandering off, like dementia and Alzheimer’s patients, and notify all users within 20 kilometers, if the person walks away from the home.
- Combine three sensors – one above the bed to measure the senior’s vital signs and movement, a second that is a motion sensor to evaluate the older person’s vital signs, and a third sensor that detects whether a door is open or shut.
Be sure that you talk with a local elder law attorney to see how your state’s regulations differ from the general law covered in this article.
Reuters. “Aging Japan: Robots may have role in future of elder care.” (accessed August 18, 2018) https://www.reuters.com/article/us-japan-ageing-robots-widerimage/aging-japan-robots-may-have-role-in-future-of-elder-care-idUSKBN1H33AB
Venture Beat. “Meet the robots caring for Japan’s aging population.” (accessed August 18, 2018) https://venturebeat.com/2017/11/14/meet-the-robots-caring-for-japans-aging-population/