These days, growing older does not mean the end of independent living. There are huge positives to be taken from retiring and the lifestyle that it offers seniors; an increase in time to spend with family, friends and other loved ones, a chance to take more vacations, or simply indulge in hobbies and creative passions that could never be fulfilled whilst working full time and raising a family.
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Of course there are inevitable negatives. Health concerns may increase, and issues with mobility and general mental and physical well-being may arise too.
Even with all these factors to consider, independent living is still possible and technology is making it easier. Robotics are revolutionizing senior living, and here’s how.
A rise in population means technology needs to move with the times
In the next four decades, it’s expected there will be upward of 1.8 billion older adults. People are living longer, because of better health and social care, coupled with improvements to their diet and exercise.
This increase in population means we’ve got a generation of older adults who either want to learn more about technology, or who are already tech savvy or want to find ways in which it can help them with their day to day lives.
New tech innovations need to be designed with older adults in mind, and there are some exciting developments which are making it easier for many seniors to live in their own accommodation for longer, or with less assistance than they might previously have required.
In 2016, noted Engineering Psychologist Jenay Beer gave a TED talk in which she spoke about her ongoing work in the field of Human-Robot Interaction. She detailed her discussions with senior focus groups on a project called “Personal Robot 2”, which is a mobile manipulator that can move unassisted around rooms, using arm like grippers to lift and move items.
The seniors targeted in the focus group felt this was a positive step and that they could see such a robot being developed for use in the home, to help with day to day tasks like cleaning, lifting and moving furniture or fetching and carrying items.
The negative side to “Personal Robot 2” was that it was heavy, and unwieldy, with seniors interviewed expressing concerns about whether or not the robot would be capable of “making decisions”. For instance, the focus group were quite happy for the robot to deliver bottles or packages of prescription medication to them, but did not want it to have the ability to deliver dosage or decide how much could be taken. This is perfectly understandable.
Scientific studies are now focusing on the topic of socially assistive robots (SAR) for senior citizens, when compared to other robots an SAR cannot only provide help with day to day living as outlined above but is also capable of providing social, emotional, and cognitive support for older people.
Again, whilst seniors thought these would be beneficial, they still did not want to give up control of their lives to these machines.
Whilst this technology is in part being researched, invented and refined are there other ways to incorporate robotic technology into the home to make life easier for seniors?
Simpler Robotic Technology for Seniors
In short, the answer is “yes”. If having a personal robot that provides company and helps move furniture around is simply too scary or too expensive, there are plenty of other ways to introduce this kind of tech into everyday living, without spending a fortune, or feeling like the home has been taken over by the plot of a science fiction movie.
Different robot vacuums have different approaches to cleaning the home, but either way they can mean the difference between lugging an unwieldy and large standard vacuum round, or not doing the cleaning at all.
Some Robotic Vacuums will sweep each room methodically, taking each section of carpet or hard floor at a time, whilst some will move more randomly around the home, which, although can look haphazard and as though the job is not being done properly, is actually the effect of the in-built camera inside the machine sensing and mapping out the floor space before it cleans.
Other Robot Vacuums will come with a remote control, handy if an older person has mobility issues, so they can be directed to the exact spot that needs cleaning. Prices for this kind of tech can vary widely.
Generally speaking, the more inexpensive models will just be programmable to run and vacuum until their battery is flat, whilst the more expensive models will come programmable and with feature modes and timers so they can be set to clean specific areas at specific times.
The main drawback for this kind of gadget is that they won’t ever clean as deeply as a traditional vacuum, though many models are now coming with turbo charged units which have enhanced dust and dirt removing capabilities.
Robotic Pool Cleaners
Designed as a unit that runs from an outside power source, rather than from the pool’s filtration system, a robotic pool cleaner is very similar to the robotic vacuum. This type of machine will take all the back breaking work out of manually cleaning and refreshing a swimming pool, so that it can be used regularly and safely throughout the warmer months. Essential for keeping physically active and making sure seniors get regular exercise.
This gadget runs on wheels or tank treads. They also have removable filter bags that you take out and clean after each use, meaning that there is no transfer of dirt or bacteria, back into the pool afterwards.
Most pool cleaners work on a system of sweeping the dirt and debris from the bottom of the pool using rotating brush heads, but in order to remove algae and other potential water contaminants from the pool, it’s worth investing in a more expensive make or model.
It’s worth noting that with a robotic gadget like this, it’s better to invest in something that’s been on the market for some time rather than buying a relatively new or un-reviewed model.
Perhaps one of the most difficult household tasks for seniors is mopping and sweeping hard floors, which need more care and attention than a simple pass over with a vacuum. This is where the idea of a robotic mop comes into play.
They are designed to be able to fit into small, compact spaces and to clean many different types of hard floor, whether that’s tiles, laminate or hardwood.
Similar in set up to the robotic vacuum, they can simply be left to their own devices to clean and mop, all that needs to be added to the machine is a cleaning head or mop head (which are usually supplied) cleaning solution and water.
Many models come with inbuilt obstacle sensors, meaning that if the machine accidentally bumps into something on one run round the house, it will remember it for next time and not make the same mistake again when it cleans the floor.
Plus points for these cleaners are that they are small, easy to store and easy to use. However, some models can create a lot of background noise.
There are plenty of options for seniors to invest in robotic technology, and many more developments in the pipeline for the future. The main question is, how far will this type of invention go – and are our seniors ready for it?