Older Adults Open To Robots in Home Care

Robot technology is making inroads into home care, and a new study suggests that older adults will embrace the innovations.

The findings, published in the journal Assistive Technology, examined the attitudes regarding robotic technologies among people in the age ranges of 18-44, 45-64, and 65+ and found general agreement on their perceptions of the value of robotic technologies that could provide assistance in personal care, give medical advice and take vital signs.

The study suggests older adults are open to these advances and would find them useful on a similar level to young people, running counter to the stereotype of older adults being disinterested in new technology.

“What I was surprised to find with this study is that there wasn’t a big gap between older and younger people as far as their acceptance and perceived usefulness for robots,” lead researcher Mandi Hall of the University of Washington School of Medicine told Home Health Care News.

With seven years in home health under her belt, Hall is familiar with the tasks in the field. She worked in home health care as a community liaison and telehealth champion at Caretenders in Gainesville, Florida, assisting with the coordination of a telemonitoring program for heart failure patients. Hall now works as an affiliate assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine and as a senior user researcher at Microsoft.

“I was frustrated working in health care with the technologies that were available,” she recalled.

New technologies now seem to be on the march for health care, and robots have already started to move into the home care sector. The Toyota Research Institute (TRI) invested $14 million in Israel-based Intuition Robotics, which develops social companion technology for older adults. And Hernon, Virginia-based Comfort Keepers of Reston partnered with Fairfax, Virgina-based INF Robotics to deploy an affordable robot for when an aide isn’t in the home.

The study in Assistive Technology assessed the attitudes of adults to just such a concept. The researchers developed an anonymous survey that defined a robot as “an autonomous machine that can assist humans in everyday tasks…come in various shapes or sizes, and be human-like.” The survey included a range of tasks where respondents assessed the usefulness of a robot. It also included several situations involving robots, in order to assess respondent comfort with these scenarios.

The survey was completed by 499 people, 477 of whom provided their age. Adults in public places in the Seattle metropolitan area were invited to take part in the survey.

While younger people were more open overall to health care tasks being performed by robots, all the age groups reported similar sentiments for all the medical and domestic scenarios where robots could assist, the study found. Though there were statistically significant differences between older and younger adults on the usefulness of robots for such tasks as taking vital sign assessments, providing medical advice and assisting with personal care, the differences were not as stark in practical terms, the study said.

“It was just interesting to find that when I surveyed older and younger, there was a general common sentiment that they all perceived these tasks that would be useful to be done by a robot,” Hall said.

She also noted that many of the instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) and activities of daily living (ADLs) become more difficult to perform as a person ages in place.

“For homebound patients, they have some limitations, and it would be helpful to have a certain augmented support if a human isn’t available,” Hall said.

Robots can fill gaps in care, especially when home care workers come in at only certain hours of the day, she told HHCN.

And since the survey’s findings suggest older adults are open to robotic technology for certain tasks in the home, designers and developers of home care and home health technology should make sure they’re including end users in all the design phases, she argued.

“A lot of people think robots are going to take away jobs or take away that human component that in health care is so important for people,” she said. “I think it’s important to note that technology is a way to augment what you already do…or make what you already do more efficient.”

Written by Maggie Flynn

Maggie Flynn
Business reporter
When she's not working, Maggie enjoys running, reading, writing and sports, in no particular order. Favorite things include murder mysteries, Lake Michigan and the Pittsburgh Penguins.