My grandmother was the cutest person I knew. She lit up every room she entered and was adored by her children and grandchildren. Often, even strangers and passers-by who met her would comment on how warm and pleasant she was.
Her recent passing was a massive blow to my family. She was the glue that kept us together and losing her left a gaping hole in our hearts and lives. However, it was clear for several months leading up to her death that she was not the same chirpy and sprightly person we had known and loved for decades.
At 95, her conversations had increasingly become shorter, her hearing and eyesight had deteriorated and although she could still walk – sometimes with a swift gait – she wasn’t nearly as active as she had been.
Thankfully, she had family members who took excellent care of her and who were there to tend to her every need.
But many, in fact most, older people aren’t nearly as fortunate.
As the global population gets older – thanks to people living longer lives and fertility rates everywhere taking a nosedive – there are going to be many more older people in the world in the near future, and most critically, not nearly enough younger people to take care of them all.
In fact, the number of people over the age of 65 in the world is projected to more than double by 2050. This ageing of the global population is one of the most significant demographic trends of the 21st century.
Malaysians aged above 65 years will be more than 15% of the population in 2050, according to the Economic Outlook 2023 report released last October by the finance ministry. The 2022 figure is 7.3% of the total population.
To see the problem we’ll face, let’s look at dementia, an incurable chronic degenerative condition which, at its end-stage, calls for 24-hour care. The Alzheimer’s Disease Foundation of Malaysia estimated that there were between 204,000 and 264,000 old people living with dementia in 2020.
This number is expected to treble to between 637,500 and 825,000 by 2050, an increase of 312%.
As people live longer and healthier lives, the demand for elderly care will continue to increase. In response to this trend, several new technologies are being developed to help meet the needs of older adults. Known as “elder-care technologies,” they are designed to improve the quality of life of older adults and to help them maintain their independence for as long as possible.
One of the most promising areas of elder-care technology is the use of robots, which can help with a wide range of tasks, including mobility, communication and daily living activities.
One key advantage of elder-care robots is their ability to provide assistance to individuals who may have difficulty with physical tasks due to mobility issues or other health problems. Elder-care robots can be programmed to perform a variety of tasks, such as fetching items, helping with grooming and hygiene, and providing light physical therapy. This can help to improve the quality of life of elderly individuals and reduce their dependence on human caregivers.
Additionally, robots can provide a level of assistance that humans simply cannot match. They are available 24/7, never tire and can perform tasks such as lifting and transferring patients that would otherwise put human caregivers at risk of injury. They can also be programmed with specific medical knowledge to assist with tasks such as administering medication and monitoring vital signs.
Robots can also be programmed to remind older adults to take their medication through a variety of methods, such as auditory or visual cues, and can also help to ensure that medication is taken as prescribed.
Many elder-care robots are designed to be highly interactive, with the ability to converse, play games and engage in other activities that can provide mental stimulation and socialisation. This can help to improve the mental health and well-being of elderly individuals who may be at risk of social isolation or who feel lonely.
Here are some examples of elder-care robots currently in use around the world:
- Social robots: These robots are designed to provide companionship and social interaction for older adults who may be isolated or living alone. An example of this is the Pepper robot which can converse with users, play games and even read stories.
- Telepresence robots: These allow older adults to remotely interact with family and friends, as well as access healthcare and other services. For example, the VGo is a telepresence robot that can be controlled remotely by a user to move around and see what is happening in their home.
- Assistive robots: These are designed to help older adults with daily tasks such as cooking, cleaning and even taking medication. For example, the Care-O-bot is a robot that can help with cleaning, laundry and other household tasks.
- Rehabilitation robots: These robots are used to help older adults recover from injuries or illnesses by providing targeted physical therapy exercises. For example, the InMotion2 is a rehabilitation robot that can help with upper body therapy.
- Monitoring robots: These robots, which are used to monitor the health and well-being of older adults, can alert caregivers or family members if there are any problems or abnormalities. The Loomo robot is an example of this.
There are also potential cost savings associated with the use of elder-care robots. While the initial cost of purchasing and setting up an elder-care robot may be significant, these costs may be offset by the reduced need for human caregivers. This can be particularly beneficial for elderly individuals who need constant care and may require multiple caregivers to provide the necessary support.
The best part is, we’re merely scratching the surface when it comes to elder-care robots. As inventors and innovators continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible, I am confident we’ll see even more versatile and nifty robots being developed to help older adults live more independently and comfortably.
The writer can be contacted at [email protected].
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.