Do robots and tech have a place in aging healthcare?

As humans grow older, they become more susceptible to chronic conditions and potential decline in physical and cognitive functions. Conditions like arthritis, multiple-sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and a myriad of others can interfere with day-to-day functions. Something as simple as buttoning a shirt can become difficult if someone’s limbs aren’t functioning as they once did.

This loss of ability leads to a loss of independence as older adults must rely on other people for everyday tasks. Some older adults might move into assisted living facilities or a family member’s home, sacrificing a piece of their personal comfort in exchange for support.

To curb this loss of independence and quality of life, researchers, entrepreneurs, and engineers across multiple disciplines have developed assistive technologies to help bridge the gap between disability and independence.

What are assistive technologies?

Assistive technologies are any type of device, gadget, or intervention that helps an individual to function to their best potential, despite a present disability. These technologies come in all shapes and sizes and can be helpful for people of all ages. Personal alarms, like Life Alert, assist individuals with calling emergency services in situations where they are unable to make it to the phone when helped is needed.

Telecare systems have the same goal of alerting someone when something is wrong, however they rely sensors in the home. The sensors detect motion, so if an individual does not get out of bed or does not come home, the sensors are triggered, and a neighbor is notified to check in on them.

Mobility assistive aids, like walkers, canes, wheelchairs, seat lifts, scooters, and more help older adults with walking and general getting around.  Simple devices can help individuals button their shirts or reach items stored in high places.

Other assistive aids include computer programs or information and communication technologies that specialize in digital platforms that have the same goal as assistive technologies. The “Long-Lasting Memories Care” system is an ICT focused on improving both physical and cognitive health using web-based games. The games incorporate physical exercises that promote aerobic, muscle strength, and balance training, while cognitive games exercise the brain and sharpen cognitive functions, such as memory, thinking, observation, and concentration – all through fun, entertaining web-based games with adjustable difficulty.

ICTs provide an opportunity for older adults to continue to work on their physical and cognitive development in a fun, digestible way that doesn’t always feel like work. While these technologies promote independence, they sometimes fail to recognize the importance of social connection for older adults.

Assistive Robots

Assistive robots offer the potential to not only help older adults, but also staff in hospitals and assisted living facilities, too. Social robots aim to increase a sense of human interaction in older adults’ lives. Other types of robots, like fitness robots, promote physical well-being and longevity.

Social assistive robots tend to have human facial expressions that change in conversation and add a more human element to the technology. Most assistive robots have screens that produce captions as they speak, which can be translated into different languages. Some of these robots run bingo or hold singing competitions in nursing facilities so that staff can focus on the individual needs of the residents.

Other robots are designed for exercise. They can lead adults in sitting or standing exercises, adjust the difficult of the exercises, demonstrate the exercises, and provide feedback on participants’ form.

With a boom in humans’ technological capabilities, the possibilities are endless for assistive technologies of the future. Self-driving cars, wheelchairs that can climb and descend stairs, robots in homes, hospitals, and living facilities could be commonplace in the future, depending on policy, funding, continued research, and society’s acceptance of these technologies. As assistive technologies grow, so can the quality of life in individuals living with adversities.

About The Author

Grace Weintrob is a senior majoring in Communication Studies with a minor in Stage, Sports, and Film Production and Science Communication at CSU. She is currently working as the digital media intern for the Columbine Health Systems Center for Healthy Aging.

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