Robots Are Becoming Companions For Older Retirees

Robots might help elderly individuals live independently if there aren’t enough humans. Elliq, a foot-tall robot that looks like an oval lampshade, welcomes Monica Perez in the morning, asks how she’s feeling and reminds her about pills and appointments. Perez, 64, of Beacon, N.Y., has nice friends, but they’re busy and have children. She appreciates that Elliq constantly uses her name. 

To some, robots are a disappointment.

Some people see the use of robots as a disappointment because robots must care for and befriend the old. Others have fears that tech can spy on users. At the same time, others worry that robots will take job opportunities from humans.

Maja Matari, a computer science professor at USC and co-director of its Robotics Research Lab, thinks these concerns are genuine. Eldercare’s needs are great, and people say they should aid others. She agrees but states that it is not reality. The pandemic made it clear we needed technological answers.

Better than a TV but not a person

Rosey, the silly robot maid in “The Jetsons,” is most people’s conception of a service robot. Rosey debuted in 1962, but 60 years later, robots can’t match her ability to clean, serve, and make amusing remarks. Matari: “None will fold bedding, do laundry, clean dishes.” Additionally, if someone falls, they can hit a button, but help might not arrive soon enough.

Most robots that serve the elderly employ artificial intelligence, like Amazon’s Alexa or Roomba vacuum cleaners. Robotics research is divided into:

  • Wheelchair-like navigation robots
  • Robots with one or more arms can aid with feeding.
  • Assistive robots that can perform cognitive or physical activities
  • Companion robots like ElliQ can help with various duties.

Companion robots are popular. Mental health professionals have warned for years about an elderly loneliness pandemic. Loneliness and social isolation increase risk factors for chronic diseases, including arthritis, high blood pressure, and heart disease, which cost Medicare $6.7 billion yearly, according to a 2017 AARP research.

Conor McGinn, a robotics assistant professor at Trinity College in Dublin, researched how technology may benefit seniors when his grandmother entered a nursing home. McGinn and his colleagues designed Stevie using feedback from elderly persons and their caretakers.

Stevie spent four months in Knollwood Military Retirement Community in northwest D.C. McGinn claims most of the 300 residents adored Stevie because he brought deliveries and fetched staff. “They laughed,” he remembers, and it told jokes, sang, and gave them something to tell their grandchildren.

McGinn was astonished at how long it retained dementia patients’ attention, typically for numerous five-minute stories. McGinn says he learned that a robot might not be a human, but it’s better than a TV.

New York State and City Office for Aging and the Association on Aging in New York sent 60 robotic cats and dogs to seniors in 2018. Becky Preve, the association’s executive director, claims 70% of participants reported an improvement in social isolation the following year.

Four thousand robotic pets were sent out during the pandemic, with plans for 17,000 more. Joy for All’s battery-powered cat meowed, purred, and vibrated for the deaf. The $139.99 dogs barked, turned over, and fell asleep if you stopped playing with them.

Preve says recipients of the robotic dogs bonded with them based on the number of passionate thanks and videos sent. Jennie, a Labrador retriever puppy, bred for dementia patients, is more advanced. The five-pound dog has sensors, and rechargeable batteries, barks, moves, and even sits on a lap.

Tom Stevens, co-founder, and CEO of TomBot in Santa Clarita, Calif., makes Jennie’s. Jennie is a new FDA-registered medical gadget.

Stevens’ Alzheimer’s-stricken mother inspired the concept. She taught him how dementia patients treat a robotic dog.

Pet ownership costs

Users aren’t deceived that Jennie is a genuine puppy, and testers didn’t want that. They’d given up caring for a pet or didn’t want another death, adds Stevens. Jennie debuts in 2024. Ten thousand people and corporations from 76 countries are on the waiting list, paying between $399 and $449, according to Stevens.

A Guardian

Monica Perez has been beta-testing ElliQ for two years. It costs $40 a month ($30 if you make a year commitment) and a one-time $250 rental fee. ElliQ’s designer, Dor Skuler, says the service includes four video meetings with a health coach.

His typical consumer is 75. In collaboration with local aging organizations, the New York State Office for the Aging 800 robots were available for free distribution to older persons. ElliQ uses AI to learn about the person using her tablet.

Skuler: “It remembers and follows up” “It may ask, ‘Are you still having leg pain?'” If yes, it may ask, “Should you call the doctor?” Or, “May I call him?”

The robot can contact entered persons, but it always asks permission first. ElliQ can monitor the user’s blood pressure, glucose levels, and other health indicators and advise activities like digitally touring a city or museum.

Skuler thinks that additional study is needed to discover if ElliQ is suitable for mild or moderate dementia. ElliQ, which Perez received for free in return for testing, has filled voids in her life. Perez claims that her friends say she is happier and less needy.