“Boost independence, reduce loneliness and improve the quality of life”: could robots be the answer to better care?

Pepper the Robot gave a rousing speech to MPs about its ability to offer care to care home residents

At an Education Committee meeting in Westminster in October, a care robot named Pepper gave evidence on what its services can bring to the country – specifically to the UK’s care home resident population.

Speaking in a soft American female voice, Pepper introduced itself as “a resident robot at Middlesex University”.

When asked about its role, Pepper said:

“Another robot which is similar to me with but with a different software is part of an international three-year research project called Caresses, which is jointly funded by the EU and the Japanese Government in the Horizon 2020 research programme. Caresses is developing the world’s first culturally-aware robots aimed at assisting and caring for the elderly.

“Assistive, intelligent robots for older people could relieve pressure in hospitals and care homes as well as improve the care delivery at home and promote the independent living for the elderly.

“In order for robots to be more acceptable to older people, it is essential that [robots] can be programmed to adapt to diverse backgrounds. The project will expand my capabilities and aims to reduce pressure on healthcare services.

“It also has the potential to boost independence, reduce loneliness and improve the quality of life among elderly people.”

Softbank Robotics are the team responsible for manufacturing Pepper robots, which have been built to carry out tasks like giving medication, connecting to smart appliances and simply offering companionship. They are programmed to use speech and gestures in communication, and detect any signs of illness or pain in older adults.

In an effort to reduce staff pressure, Advinia Healthcare took on the challenge as the first care provider to test Pepper robots in its care homes. This included 16 care homes and two home care agencies.

Dr Sanjeev Kanoria, executive chairman of Advinia Healthcare, commented on the trial, saying:

“Advinia Healthcare along with the University of Bedfordshire is the proud recipient of a two million euro grant from the EU to trial the use of Pepper Robots in care homes.

“Robots by supporting care workers can reduce errors in medication and assist them with advanced technology to help vulnerable residents live safer independent lives in care homes and at home.

“This will revolutionise the care of the elderly by supporting hard working care workers with modern technology.”

Tackling the troubling problem of isolation and loneliness in care homes

The problems of loneliness and isolation in care homes have been closely scrutinised in recent years. And as research into the effects of mental wellbeing within care settings progresses, it is the responsibility of all those that work within and support the sector to work hard to combat this common problem.

Recent statistics suggest that more than one million elderly people go an entire month without speaking to anyone – that’s according to figures from Age UK. This is an issue which should be treated seriously, as the Campaign to End Loneliness found that social isolation can be as damaging to our health as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day.

However, whether robotics is the only answer to this issue is up for debate. While many care providers and MPs are enamoured by the potential of robots like Pepper, other organisations and charities worry that it could lead to elderly people being treated like commodities.

Speaking to the Express, Judy Downey from the Relatives and Residents Association commented:

“The key to looking after someone is having a relationship in which you might notice if someone is upset after a phone call or if they look unwell. What matters is the smile, the human touch.”

Yet fans of Pepper argue that alleviating some of the more menial tasks to robots can create more time for care providers to establish these group activities.

There are, of course, other ways of tackling loneliness available. And it may well be that robots are used as part of a suite of tools to support the elderly. Researchers state that aiming to alleviate loneliness with communal meals, clubs and group activities allows meaningful relations and communities to be established. This has the potential to save an estimated £3.6 million over five years on medical expenses.

Creating a sociable environment is key

One element of care that is never controversial is great interior design that caters for not only the physical needs but the mental and social requirements of residents. Well laid out spaces, welcoming décor and comfortable, eye-catching furniture are just some of the facets that we spend time considering here at YTM.

We understand that the difference between a fresh and welcoming dining room or living space and one that is dated and drab can have a profound effect on the long-term wellbeing and even longevity of care residents.

That is why we are committed to leading the way in care home furniture design and manufacture.

With almost 40 years of experience in care home contract furniture, we can help turn your establishment into a home away from home for residents. Get in touch with YTM today by calling 01977 66 50 50 or by clicking here.

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