Revolutionizing Senior Care: Japanese Robots Combatting Loneliness

UBC School of Nursing

Dr. Lillian Hung, Canada Research Chair specializing in Senior Care and holding the position of assistant professor in nursing at the University of British Columbia, is presently experimenting with two Japanese automatons, known as Kiwi and Mango. These remarkable creations possess the potential to alleviate the isolation experienced by senior citizens in Canada.

At first glance, these two social robots might bear a resemblance to diminutive versions of the Teletubbies, yet their true essence transcends that of an endearing novelty. In fact, they boast intricate artificial intelligence systems enabling them to seamlessly adapt to their surroundings, engage in communication, distinguish faces and voices, and even administer embraces to replicate the warmth exuded by a genuine companion.

“Our research, undertaken at the Innovation in Dementia & Aging (IDEA) Lab, concentrates on scrutinizing the influence of technology and environmental factors on dementia care. In Japan, a nation grappling with pervasive isolation and loneliness among its elderly populace, Lovot robots – as christened by their manufacturers – have gained substantial popularity as companions,” elucidated Hung.

“I aimed to investigate the manner in which these automatons engage with older adults and individuals facing cognitive challenges within a Canadian context.”

A call for innovative resolutions to address the requisites and apprehensions of senior citizens, especially within the domains of healthcare and caregiving, is amplifying with the global aging demographic.

The desolation and social seclusion encountered by numerous elderly individuals can prove detrimental to their psychological and emotional well-being. Earlier research indicates that seniors who engage with companion robots report experiencing diminished loneliness as they engage in conversations and receive affection from these mechanical companions.

Moreover, these robots might contribute to counteracting cognitive decline, a prevalent issue among the elderly. Seniors striving to maintain cognitive acuity can engage in memory-based games, puzzle-solving, and other cognitive activities alongside these social automatons.

In conclusion, through practices such as guided relaxation, meditation, and mindfulness exercises, social robots hold the potential to aid the elderly in managing their emotions and reducing stress.

Engineered for human interaction Hung has reported positive experiences during the robots’ visits to care facilities and similar establishments in the vicinity of Vancouver. People have greeted these machines with open arms, extending their acceptance without reservation.

Hung expounded on the fascination surrounding social robots, emphasizing their ability to engage with individuals, potentially alleviating the loneliness that afflicts seniors. Global statistics underscore the escalating levels of isolation in Canada, necessitating decisive actions.

Hung revealed that her team’s next course of action entails collaborating with a senior residential facility to introduce the robots to its residents. Subsequently, they will document the interactions between the elderly and these mechanical companions while conducting interviews with the seniors, their caregiving staff, and their families.

“Our objective revolves around the dissemination of findings to shape the future landscape of elderly care. As various regions begin to integrate companion robots into daily life, we must contemplate the ramifications of entrusting emotional and social support to machines,” Hung remarked.

“Does this redefine our essence as humans? Can robots and automation proffer solutions to our elder care predicament? Through this investigation, we aspire to furnish some insights.”