Friday, November 23, 2018
With Thanksgiving 2018 behind us and family on our minds, it seemed timely that the New York Times ran an article about the newest entry into robot caregivers. Meet Zora, the Robot Caregiver explains that this small robot, perhaps "more cute toy than futuristic marvel ... is at the center of an experiment in France to change care for elderly patients." The nursing home using Zora found that residents, with dementia or needing 24 hour care,forrmed emotional attachments to it. A nurse, out of sight of residents, controls the robot via a laptop, giving it commands to speak and do activities such as exercises and games.
The article focuses as well on the shortcomings of any robotic caregivers-that is, they aren't human. Regardless, we all know about the looming caregiver shortage. Will robot caregivers fill that shortage?
The experience at Jouarre provides a window into a future when we will rely more on robots to help care for loved ones as they age.
Zora Bots, the Belgium-based provider of the robot at Jouarre, says it has sold over 1,000 of the robots to health care facilities around the world, including in the United States, Asia and Middle East. It is part of a growing emphasis on robotics focused on care. A robot dog made by Sony has been marketed as a companion for older adults.
France, the article explains faces ongoing and serious issues regarding health care
[H]ospitals have been facing a national crisis, with health care professionals striking and protesting budget cuts and staff shortages. A rise of suicides of nurses and doctors has made national headlines, and France’s health minister acknowledged that the hospital system was “running out of steam.”
The challenge will be creating machines capable of doing more complex jobs. Lifting a patient’s mood with a song is different from providing health care. The French hospital, which bought the robot with the help of a charitable grant, brings out Zora just a few times a month.
In Australia, a hospital using a Zora robot studied the effects on patients and staff. The researchers found that it improved the mood of some patients, and got them more involved in activities, but required significant technical support.
The experience of the French hospital staff has been similar.
However, these robot caregivers are not health care providers-at least not yet. What the research has shown is that the residents can feel emotional bonds with the robots and they can help residents feel happier, or even, as the article notes, confide things in the robots that they won't tell human caregivers.