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From Homes to Hospitals: Robot Helpers Will Care For Us in Old Age

Our world is moving towards an inevitable, yet often overlooked, obstacle - a drastically aging demographic. It’s estimated that by 2050, there will be almost 1.5 billion people over the age of 65, according to the Population Reference Bureau, and greater life expectancy is also set to compound the issue.

As baby boomers continue to retire and mortality rates continue to fall, it’s critical that we focus on the coming needs of an aging demographic from both an economic and social level. A simple and plausible solution to keeping up with this spike can be found in robotic capabilities.

Globally, governments agencies, research firms, and robotics companies alike recognize that we aren’t getting any younger and that robotics funding and developments will have incredible impact on the quality of life for the world’s elderly. From healthcare to home assistance and even a touch of humor, robotics will shape the way we care for ourselves.

IN THE HOME

Mobile assistive robots provide simple, yet important services for the elderly. Robots of this nature can detect if a fall or accident takes places, quickly evaluate the seriousness of the fall and alert medical personnel if necessary. Maintaining a sense of independence is a key element to keeping an active and in control life - all from the comfort of your own home.

In less serious situations, homecare bots are serving as therapeutic entertainment for those suffering from depression or dementia. Robots such as Paro, Pearl, and Pepper are utilized to create a sense of stability and calmness for the elderly. Paro, for example, is a therapeutic robotic seal that can learn behaviors and respond to actions and words, similar to a pet but without the responsibilities.

Hector is another elderly care robot developed by Smart Homes for the CompanionAble project. Hector helps seniors to live independently, and is compatible with the company’s smart homes through a remote control center. Capabilities include daily reminders to take medication, return phone calls and cataloging appointment times.

In the ROBO index, American-based iRobot has developed a globally recognized product that has paved a smooth path for home upkeep. The Roomba, a robotic vacuum cleaner, is one of the most successful home assistive devices on the market.

IN THE HOSPITAL

iRobot is also responsible for a partnership with InTouch Health, whose Remote Presence Virtual + Independent Telemedicine Assistant gained FDA approval in early 2013. This system allows physicians to care for their patients from a distance, avoiding unnecessary travel, and can even access diagnostic devices and medical records virtually.

Robotic developments in the medical world will also help doctors to keep up with the influx of elderly people by quickly and efficiently solving medical issues. Systems like the Da Vinci Surgical robot are performing and assisting in routine surgeries, simplifying incisions and speeding up the process, ultimately allowing doctors to spend more time on complex operations. Robotic assistance is currently used in 80 percent of prostate surgeries and is becoming a common sight in operating rooms across the world.

IN BETWEEN

The ongoing argument over how old is too old to be behind a wheel will be no more; the dangers associated with driving and dementia will be obsolete. Aside from the environmental and safety benefits of self-driving cars, the incredible perks of the technology for the elderly can serve as reason enough to drive development. Autonomous transportation will immensely enhance the mobility and safety of an aging population. Robotic cars will further enable elderly independence.

 

“Robotic technology is going to be pulled by the elderly,” Rodney Brooks, founder of Rethink Robotics said in a session at RoboUniverse NYC in May. “We are going to have robots that are intimately interacting with us. So I wish you all a great old age - surrounded by robots.”

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