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Robotics in healthcare and elderly care. Can assistive robots effectively improve care while keeping it humane?

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Assistive robots are significantly improving healthcare and elderly care and are being used in various ways to provide care to patients and the elderly.

Assistive robots have great potential to improve the level of care provided by caregivers, whether in hospitals, nursing homes, or private homes. However, there are concerns that the widespread use of robots could dehumanize care for the vulnerable. With the right design priorities and implementation, robots can enhance care while maintaining an empathetic and humane approach.

The reasons for their huge demand in the healthcare industry are as follows:

  • They assist with mobility and activities of daily living (ADLs), supporting patients and the elderly in maintaining their independence and quality of life.
  • They offer companionship and social interaction to reduce loneliness and isolation, improving mental and emotional health.
  • They send reminders for medication and appointments, helping elderly people stay healthy and on track with their care.
  • They monitor vital signs and other health data to identify potential health problems, crucial for better treatment.
  • They assist in rehabilitation and therapy, helping patients recover from injuries and illnesses more quickly and fully.

A need for training for healthcare professionals to interact with assistive robots and the development of clear ethical guidelines for the use of assistive robots in elderly care is important and needed.

However, despite the many benefits of assistive robots, there are challenges and problems:

  • One major challenge is designing and developing robots to interact with humans in a natural, intuitive, and empathetic way. Human-robot interaction is a multidisciplinary field involving various aspects such as sensing, perception, communication, learning, adaptation, and ethics.
  • Another challenge is the evaluation of the impact and outcomes of assistive robots on users and society. There is a lack of standardization and consensus on how to conduct rigorous and reliable evaluations. The ethical and social implications of assistive robots also need to be understood.

The use of assistive robots in healthcare and elderly care is growing rapidly:

  • The global assistive robots market, as per MarketsandMarkets, is expected to grow from $1.8 billion in 2022 to $8.1 billion by 2028.
  • Researchers at the University of Twente in the Netherlands in 2022 found that assistive robots improve the quality of life of older adults by reducing loneliness, improving social interaction, and providing assistance with ADLs.
  • Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, in 2021 found that assistive robots improve the efficiency of nurses by freeing them up to focus on more complex tasks.
  • Researchers at the University of Michigan in 2020 found that assistive robots reduce falls and injuries among older adults.
  • The global market for assistive robots in healthcare and elderly care is expected to reach $14.3 billion by 2028.
  • There were over 600 companies in 2021 developing assistive robots for healthcare and elderly care.
  • Assistive robots are most commonly used in rehabilitation robots, surgical robots, and telepresence robots.
  • Rehabilitation robots are mainly used for patients to recover from injuries and illnesses.
  • Complex surgeries are performed with surgical robots with greater precision and accuracy than traditional methods.
  • Telepresence robots provide remote communication and assistance to patients and the elderly.
  • The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) in 2023 reports that the global market for healthcare robots is expected to reach $18.6 billion by 2027.
  • The Pew Research Center study in 2022 found that 54% of Americans believe that robots will play a major role in healthcare in the next 50 years.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) in 2021 found that assistive robots can improve the quality of life for older people and people with disabilities.
  • The University of California, Berkeley study in 2020 reported that assistive robots reduce loneliness and isolation among the elderly.

Now, the question arises about countries with negative birth rates. Is this a rising alarm, where the inadequacy or emptiness has been filled by AI robots?

Are we really heading into a future where children are also cared for by AI robots due to various challenges and cited problems? What do you think about society accepting robots as partners in loneliness or in the final stages of life?

The next generation learns from its elders, so how should this be addressed? Once solace is found in the arms of robots, is it guiding the young generation to seek companionship in soulless robots rather than facing the reality of a world with a mix of good and bad companions?

Examples of assistive robots used in healthcare and elderly care:

  • In Japan, the Paro robot provides companionship and social interaction to older adults in nursing homes.
  • In the United States, the ReWalk exoskeleton helps patients with spinal cord injuries to walk again.
  • In Europe, the GiraffPlus robot helps nurses lift and transport patients.
  • In Australia, the Mabu robot assists with ADLs for older adults living at home.

The culture of using assistive robots is on the rise due to their affordability and sophisticated attributes. They play an important role in providing companionship and restoring independence to the elderly, who may otherwise rely on busy family members.

On one side, we see a significant and supportive culture that fears job displacement is relatively low, but it also raises questions about the last stage of human life, what is right and wrong, and how to address these issues without financial struggles.

Nevertheless, robotic assistance performs repetitive but important tasks to benefit patients and overworked caregivers. Robots dispense medication, monitor vital signs, assist with mobility and exercise, and even provide companionship through social interaction.

It allows human caregivers to spend more time focusing on the personal, and emotional needs of their patients. Robotic aids have the potential to improve both the quality and quantity of care provided.

What are your thoughts? Do you believe assistive robots are the right way to address the loneliness of the elderly and patients who are missing real human companions?

Sources:- mdpi, Frontiersin, springerlink, deepai, arxiv, europa

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