Robots: The Future Of Healthcare?

The future of care for older adults may lie in the hands of robots, not people. By 2016 there will be 16 million robots deployed specifically for care around the world, ranging from empathetic robots that provide company, to exoskeletons that provide strength assistance for everyday tasks. Many of these state-of-the-art robots designed to help old people live active lifestyles while not having to sacrifice their independence were on show at the recent Active and Healthy Living Forum 2015 in Ghent.

With one in five people due to be sixty by the year 2050, the crisis of an ageing population is arriving fast. Putting people into care homes is one option, but an even better one is to help them to carry on living independently so that they can remain active members of society. The race is now on to create the technological solutions that can help facilitate this, and many within the industry believe that robots could be play a major role in this.

The Active and Healthy Living (AAL) Forum 2015 in Ghent in September showcased many of the newest hi-tech solutions designed to make independent living for the elderly a reality. One example was the AXO-SUIT project, which is developing an exoskeleton — a lightweight robot skeleton with small electric motors that can be mounted on the body — to complement the strengths of older people so they can continue to be mobile and live independently for longer. It fits the bill perfectly for those who are mentally fit and capable of looking after themselves but who have lost some of their mobility.

Avatars — on-screen digital figures that can interact with people — were also a large focus of the event. Their ability to use emotional recognition technology to interact with people in a meaningful way in real time make them an ideal solution for providing support to sufferers of dementia or mild cognitive impairment. One third of people born in the UK in 2015 will get dementia in their lifetime. It is now a $600bn global problem that will eventually overshadow all other health problems faced by society, and so new and simple ways of making these people’s lives easier will soon be needed.

Entrepreneur Geert Houben explained some of the difficulties facing old people and society. “We need to ensure that we have solutions in place to fight loneliness and social isolation, as well as ways of giving people basic medical support without them having to leave their homes. These are big issues facing older people, but ones that our connected world and technology such as robots and avatars can address.”

As the percentage of the population that requires support continues to grow, the capacity of younger generations to look after them will diminish. Robots taking care of people might seem like a distant reality, but the truth is that these solutions will soon become essential tools to help society deal with the demographic changes of the 21st century.