(Editor’s note: Welcome to the third installment of the Bold Boomer Series, which will delve into various topics affecting the “Baby Boomer” generation. Check out the first installment, which explored innovative solutions for healthcare expenses in retirement, here, and the second installment, on the semi-retired life, here!)
The aging of the population is placing increasing demands on elder care across the globe. There are currently over one billion individuals over 60 years of age in the world. This figure is expected to rise to more than 1.4 billion by 2030. In some countries, such demographics are even more impressive. For example, in Japan, roughly a third of the population is over 65 years. As a result, Japan has been proactive in its support for elder care robots. Since 2015, it has subsidized the development of robotic assistants for senior people. And now, it looks like other areas of the world are following suit.
In terms of elder care robots, these technologies do much more than provide senior companionship or remote access to care. Robotic assistants for senior people are performing an increasing number of activities today. These not only include direct care services but also help in combatting loneliness and isolation. (Dive deeper into the use of AI chatbots to stave off loneliness in this Bold story.) As a result, the industry as a whole is expected to grow by nearly 25% annually for the next several years. By 2026, the market for elder care robotics is expected to exceed $2.2 million in revenues. And with nursing shortages and constraints on healthcare expenditures, these innovations couldn’t come at a better time.
“Over the course of the pandemic, we’ve seen the devastating effect that loneliness can have on the older adult population. At the same time, we’ve seen ElliQ be incredibly helpful to our beta users and put a smile on their faces.” – Dor Skuler, CEO & Cofounder of Intuition Robotics
Advances in Elder Care Robots
For many years, robotic assistants for senior people were considered a novelty. As humorous companions, these devices weren’t necessarily taken very seriously. But this has changed significantly in the last decade. Elder care robots now provide an array of services designed to ease caregiver burden and enhance the care of older adults. Not only can they provide emotional support and companionship, but they are also being used to assist with personal care. They are also being utilized to enhance remote access to care providers while educating individuals about health and wellness activities. The scope of robot services these now provide are constantly expanding.
Advances in the use of elder care robots has been most noticeable recently within older care facilities and hospitals. With nursing and care assistant shortages, these technologies are trying to fill voids in care resources. Some offer exoskeletons that can assist with patient lifting. Others perform mundane tasks like cleaning and organizing within nursing homes and hospitals. While there remains significant room for improvement, caretakers and older adults alike are welcoming these devices. This is why most predict that robotic assistants for senior people will continue to increase in the number of services they can provide.
“It’s a force multiplier for care staff. It’s not to replace people, but it’s to augment how people care for people.” – Conor McGinn, Mechanical Engineer at Trinity College, Dublin
Robotics Offerings on the Market
Roughly two decades ago, one of the first robotic assistants for senior people introduced was PARO. This baby robotic seal was used as an emotional support robot and companion for older adults in Japan. Studies subsequently demonstrated that interactions with PARO resulted in lower blood pressure among seniors. In essence, it appeared that PARO had similar effects as live pets in this regard. But elder care robots have come a long way since then. And today, there are several companies on the market exploring their potential in senior care.
For example, Diligent Robotics was founded in 2017 and created Moxi, one of the more well-known robotic assistants for senior people. Moxi is a rolling, one-armed robot with LED eyes that is being used within hospitals to perform a variety of tasks. These include things like delivering medication, fetching supplies and equipment, and handling patient linens. Using an app-based system, hospital staff can request services from Moxi to reduce care burdens within a facility. Another company also founded in 2017 was Hello Robot based in Martinez, California. This company is pursuing the development of elder care robots that assist with senior tasks at home. Its robot Stretch can assist with vacuuming, playing with the dog, and collecting clothes from the dryer.
Intuition Robotics recently made headlines as well with its line of elder care robots. Its premier release is named ElliQ, which utilizes psychology, behavioral science, and advanced cognitive AI. ElliQ is used within older adults’ homes as well, and it promotes engagement, connectedness, and activity. Users of the device average about 20 minutes of interaction time daily, which boosted exercise, reduced stress, and improved sleep. Intuition Robotics offers these robotic assistants for senior people for a $250 enrollment fee and $30 monthly subscription. This type of services looks to be the likely way of the future.
“Older adult populations are often limited by barriers to care, which not only leads to feelings of isolation, but can also negatively affect long-term health outcomes. Our work will allow seniors to stay connected to their community — whether that be a doctor’s appointment or a church group.” – Caitlin Donovan, Global Head of Uber Health
A Continued Work in Progress
While advances in robotic assistants for senior people are noteworthy, that doesn’t mean obstacles don’t remain. The use of robots in warehouse manufacturing allows a more predictive setting for design. In comparison, elder care robots much traverse people’s homes and care facilities that are often more unpredictable. Likewise, these robots also have a much higher rate of human interactions and unexpected encounters. This naturally poses serious challenges for those designing robotic assistants for senior people, especially from a safety perspective. But based on the work to date, tremendous progress is being made. As sensors and AI technologies advance, it’s probable that the market for elder care robots will continue to expand. And leveraging these technologies will become increasingly important as older populations grow and care staff volumes shrink.