Grandma’s Robot: How AI Is Revolutionizing Elder Care

Jun 1 · 4 min read

By 2050 almost one-in-four humans will be aged 60 years and older, double today’s share. Moreover, the number of people aged 80 years and older will quadruple. This demographic shift is opening new vistas for AI technologies in elders’ daily healthcare management, and as a useful tool for healthcare professionals and institutions treating seniors.

The AI in elder care market is expected to exceed US$5.5 billion by 2022, and will grow into one of AI’s most important support roles in societies of the future.

Medication Reminder

For the elderly, taking duplicate or unnecessary medications or forgetting to take their medications altogether can greatly increase the risk of adverse reactions. To address this, New York-based AiCure provides a smartphone app that checks whether users are adhering to doctor’s prescriptions and ensures they know what to do to manage their conditions.

AiCure leverages smartphone cameras and an AI algorithm to monitor medication-taking, and will pop out an automatic alert if the meds are not taken properly. This is helpful for seniors who have serious medical conditions; difficulties with vision, dexterity, or cognition; or memory lapses.

Remote Home Monitoring — Like having a nurse in the room 24×7

The researchers behind IBM’s elderly care solutions seek to provide seniors with the peace of mind that would come from having a private nurse. This involves movement sensors in corridors, flush-detectors in toilets and bed sensors for monitoring sleep, etc. Any significant deviation from the ordinary activity patterns can issue an automated alarm to authorized nurses or physicians.

The system can also track elders’ health indexes to proactively identify risks. By leveraging machine learning algorithms to analyze historical data, researchers can also discover unknown and predictive connections, such as the relationship between daily life habits and unusual sleeping habits; or the correlation between irregular nighttime toilet trips and risk of falls. Overall the system seeks to identify early warning signs that might need extra attention.

Robot Companions

Israel’s Intuition Robotics have developed ElliQ, a “sidekick for happier aging.” The AI-powered companion robot can hold conversations with patients, remind them to take their medications, and lead them in light physical activities to improve physical and mental health. ElliQ can be integrated with various messaging and social media platforms, enabling users to send and receive texts and pictures without fussing with a cellphone. ElliQ was designed for seniors who live alone, and allows the family to remotely monitor both user and the home conditions for abnormalities.

There are a number of unique challenges in the development and deployment of AI solutions for elders. One is teaching users how to operate AI-empowered devices and services, considering the tendency for seniors’ learning and cognitive abilities to gradually degrade. The obvious solution is to simplify and personalize the human-machine interfaces and automatically update these as required. Also, although even today’s most advanced robotic systems remain far from error-free, safety and stability will be particularly important for the design and operation of assistive robotics for the elderly, and so system robustness will also be a priority.

Author: Leyi Hu | Editor: Michael Sarazen

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