What is Robot Caregiving?

In the realm of robotics, reality is catching up with science fiction. Engineers and scientists have made advances in robotics that may soon allow robots to play a larger role in our lives. There’s a potential that robot caregiving could have a huge impact on caregivers.

While it’s unlikely that robots will completely replace humans, they already can aid caregivers. From doing simple tasks to providing cognitive stimulation and social engagement, robot caregivers have the potential to make providing care to a loved one easier.

The hope is that robot caregiving will make the lives of millions of human caregivers more manageable. There’s an increasing interest in using technology for caregivers because of the increase in the elderly population in the United States, Great Britain, Japan and many other countries.

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As Forbes recently noted: “In the struggle to care for the world’s aging populations, the tech industry has identified enormous opportunity in care robotics: technologies designed to help the elderly in everything from assistance with daily tasks to social and emotional support.”

Robot Caregiving Offers Companionship

The names Lovot, Pillo, Paro, Moflin, and Qoobo may not ring a bell with you right now. But they may in the near future. All of them are robots driven by artificial intelligence that allows them to provide a connection with humans, especially the elderly.

The technology has especially taken off in Japan, a country that faces a huge shortage of caregivers in the near future. Japanese companies have rolled out robots into nursing homes, schools and offices as the workforce shrinks and the population ages, according to the BBC. One popular choice is the Telenoid, a baby-like robot with no legs and small arms. Nursing home workers report that many older people respond to it better than they do humans.

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Robots Can Assist Caregivers

Many of the robot caregivers in development are designed to support human caregivers who often face more to do in one day than they can possibly accomplish. The possibilities extend far beyond doing some of the physical tasks required in home care.

Robots already can perform tasks under certain conditions such as fetching food or water,  playing games and keeping track of appointment and medication schedules. Some advanced robot caregivers also have the ability to monitor health statistics and transmit them to physicians and other medical personnel, much in the way connected medical devices do.

Robot caregiving also can provide the cognitive stimulation that helps older people deal with the onset of age-related cognitive decline. Engineers also have designed robots to provide some amount of social engagement, which research has shown helps protect good cognitive function.

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What Medical Students Think About Robots

Robot caregiving is on the horizon for most people, but still years away from an affordable reality. However, a recent study found that both medical and nursing students both think that robots could play a positive role in care for the elderly in the future.

The study, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, reported a “generally positive attitude” among future doctors and nurses about assistive robots. The report stated: ”In the future, medical professionals could help their patients to choose the right robots (and necessary functions) that are best suited to their needs.”

The students who participated in the survey said they see robots as assistants, not companions. They said robots seem the most useful in areas such as reminding older people to take medication, ensure their safety, monitoring their health status and environment, providing cognitive training, and encouraging them to maintain physical activity.

Specific areas they thought robot caregivers could provide assistant included:

  • Reminding about meals
  • Providing warnings about potential hazards
  • Providing advice on a healthy diet
  • Monitoring intake of food and fluids
  • Encouraging contact with friends
  • Reducing sense of loneliness and improving mood

Because the creation of robot caregivers is an ongoing process, caregivers should keep an eye out for new inventions that become available to the general public. There will be a host of government regulations to meet before anything comes to market.  However, it already looks like there will be many promising uses in the area of robot caregiving. The key for human caregivers will be finding the robot that best meets their needs.

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