[Essay 2: Analyzing a Problem] Assistive Robots in Elder Care

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Professor Zino

English 101

October 23, 2014

[Essay 2: Analyzing a Problem]
Assistive Robots in Elder Care
The elderly population is steadily increasing and care of our elders is often left to family members or elder care facilities. Adam Piore, an award winning journalist writes in his article Friends for Life in the November 2014 issue of Popular Science Magazine:

Though just beginning to take root elsewhere, the concept of a human-robot society already thrives in extended-care homes across Japan. By 2025, 30 percent of the country’s population is projected to be elderly (up from 12 percent in 1990). This demographic shift will require an estimated 2.4 million caregivers — a 50 percent increase in an industry known for high turnover and low pay.

The collaboration of humans and robots is beneficial to both the patients and their caregivers. Lightening the load for health-care workers would lessen the need for such an increase in the number of caregivers. Japan is ahead of the curve, already implementing different types of robots

into their elder care facilities.

The government of Kanagawa Profecture in Japan sees the rising aged population dilemma and has begun funding the use of three different types of robots in their elder care facilities. These three robots serve very different purposes, a powered exoskeleton for stroke patients, a bipedal robot capable of teaching patients Tai Chi, and Paro, a baby harp seal robot developed as a therapeutic robot for emotional companionship. Paro was designed as a companionate robot. Already in use in nursing facilities, gentle stroking of Paro’s fur elicits a response, it turns its head and makes purring noises. Patients talk to Paro, and even tell it their secrets. Piore retells a story he was told while visiting Umegaoka Long Term Health Facility in Yokohama, Japan:

Yasko Komatzu, the head nurse, pulls me aside to tell me a story: Not long ago, a patient arrived who would frequently wander the hallways, entering others’ rooms to move and collect interesting objects . . . Paro’s arrival had a calming effect on all the patients, but especially the wanderer. She largely abandoned her forays when told the baby seal was waiting for her in the third floor common room.

He witnessed this patient sitting and brushing Paro’s fur humming to it. She called him over to her and told him that Paro was saying “Nice to meet you”, she then returned her attention to Paro (Piore Friends for Life). Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together also noticed the calming effects of Paro as well as its potential to become a companion to the elderly when she met Miriam, a 72 year-old woman in a nursing home. Miriam was visibly depressed, and projected her feelings of being sad on to Paro. She would stroke the baby seal, which in turn would turn towards her purring softly. This encouraged Miriam to show more affection towards Paro (8-9). Feeling less lonely and having a companionate robot can make the transition into an elder care facility easier

on the elderly as well as the staff that must care for them. Companionate robots give people something to care for, even if the robots don’t care about them. They make us feel less alone, less separated from our loved ones.

Nursebot was developed to help the elderly as well as patients that may need assistance at home and in institutional facilities such as nursing homes and hospitals. Nursebot can learn its way around hospitals as well as patients schedules. It was designed to ensure patients take medications and eat their meals on time, and some models can even carry oxygen and medications. She notes how researchers hoped that with the use of Nursebot, patients would no longer spend many lonely hours waiting for appointments for the attendants to come pick them up, instead, Nursebot could take them to their destination much quicker (Turkle 121). By 2006, Nursebot was placed into use in many elder care facilities and reactions to the robotic attendant were mostly positive. While Turkle believes patients need human touch, some elderly are content

with robots taking care of their most personal needs. Bathing is not something that Nursebot is currently capable of, but it may be in the future (Turkle 121). More modest patients may prefer to be bathed by a robot than a human. Nursebot may be the future for us all.

Pairing humans up with robots has many benefits, nursing in any capacity is extremely demanding and stressful. Nursing staff must care for multiple patients on any given day, and with the use of these robots, their job can be made easier. The future demand for more nurses and health-care workers can be lessened by the introduction of robots in institutional settings as well as elder care facilities. The combination of assistive technology such as Paro, friend and confidant, powered exoskeletons and Tai Chi teaching robots, to help patients to regain and maintain mobility, and Nursebot to take care of all basic needs will help patients in nursing homes feel less lonely and helpless. They could also potentially relieve family members of the burden of paying hefty prices for the care of their loved ones.
Works Cited
Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other New York: Basic Books, 2012, Print.
Piore, Adam. “Friend for Life.” Popular Science Magazine. 21 Oct. 2014. Web 21 Oct 2014

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