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How robots can help in elder care

Pr. Hiro Hirukawa

- Seniors

- Apr 12 2017

Professor Hiro Hirukawa is the Director of the Robot Innovation Research Center at AIST, Japan's leading institution in robotics. He is in charge of a five-year, $20 million plan to develop and test robots specialized in caring for older people.

Pr. Hiro Hirukawa

Director of Robot Innovation Research Center, AIST, Japan

What are the challenges Japan faces in terms of elder care?

Hiro Hirukawa: There are today 5,330,000 elders who need care in Japan. The number will continue to increase. The government forecasts that the country will be short of 370,000 caregivers in 2025. We need to find solutions to this grave problem. Robots may be part of the answer.

Who is involved in this challenge?

HH: First, the elders themselves. They are less active and are prone to accidents. Then there are the caregivers: they have a high burden to care for seniors.  The robotic device manufacturers, who sell only a few machines so far. Then the nursing care providers, who earn a moderate profit, struggle to find caregivers and are responsible when accidents happen in their facilities. Lastly, there is the government who faces cost increases and a lack of caregivers.

How can robots help?

HH: We expect robots to lighten the burden of the caregivers. This will allow for better care and help elders be autonomous and independent longer.

Can you give us specific examples where robotic technology can help?

HHI give you a very specific example. Every year elders with memory problems or dementia get lost many times in the streets of Japan. This is a big problem. These people don't know where they are when the police find them. We have to track them and bring them back to their home. We have GPS in our phones and other machines, but the elderly often forget these machines. So we created a position finder that can be embedded in their under garments.

In which field are robots most useful?

HHAfter running this program for four years I would say that robots are particularly suitable at helping elders to be independent and autonomous longer. What is particularly hard for elders are short distances. Autonomous wheelchairs, walking assistants or exoskeletons help them move around, making them more active. It also provides them with a strong sense of satisfaction. Robots are also useful for reducing the burden of care workers. We managed to reduce the total time for care services at night by 20% after four weeks from the introduction of new surveillance devices, and by 30% after eight weeks.

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