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Are robots the future of elder care?

According to the Population Reference Bureau, the elderly will account for approximately 16 percent of the world’s population by 2050. Of these 1.5 billion people, a substantial number will require around the clock care and providing this care will pose a significant burden.

Recently, researchers have begun exploring the possibility that elder care robots could provide a solution to the future’s expected care crisis. The idea is that robots could provide elderly patients with the basic care and companionship they need, all while communicating critical information to doctors. At the very least, robots could alert patients when it is time to take their medications and could notify authorities if, for example, a patient falls and is unable to get up. An additional benefit, of course, is that robots do not require rest, so they can work 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Although this may seem like science fiction, robots are already helping with patient care in nursing homes in Japan. For example, the robot Palro is about 12 inches tall and shaped like a person. It is able to play games and carry on simple conversations. A second version of the Palro, which has been in use for nearly a decade, is designed to look and feel like a baby harp seal. It is used as an alternative to therapy animals and responds to touch with eye and body movements.

Researchers have a long way to go before robots become a mainstay of elderly patient care, but it appears as though they may offer a viable solution to our potential care crisis. 

Source: CNN, “Robots: the future of elder care?” Heather Kelley, July 19, 2013

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