Robot Carers Could Help with Japan’s Senior Caregiving
Asia-Pacific, Assistive Technology, ICT, February 9 2018
JAPAN: It is no secret that Japan’s population is aging with the number of Japanese 90 years and above reaching over 2 million (Internal Affairs Ministry). The 2017 government survey indicated that there are over 35 million elderly people (65 years and above) representing 27.7% of the population. A predicted shortfall of round 370,000 caregivers by 2025 as reported in The Guardian looks gloomy for senior care. Robots are expected to step in and fill that gap. Simple yet important tasks of helping the elderly get in and out of bed are being done by robots easing the pressure on nursing staff. The government wants to change the mindset of communities to accept robotic technology as part of nursing care.
The Robot Strategy
Part of Japan’s robot strategy is to intensify the use of automation in nursing care. The focus is on helping the elderly move, excrete or take a bath as part of day-to-day living. In addition, support for dementia patients in nursing homes is accorded a high priority in the plan. Robotics are expected to help seniors in both home and nursing care settings. For seniors who are living in their own homes, robotics and assistive technology can help them achieve a level of sustainable independence. The use of technology and robots in nursing homes reduces the burden on nursing staff making it easier for them to provide quality care to seniors. In addition, robotics is expected to prevent people from requiring and needing care, helps promote good health and assists in the rehabilitation of patients and the elderly. In general, robotics can simplify the lives of seniors.
The Elderly is Being Prepared
The government is telling senior citizens that they should get used to robotic care in the future. At present, there are several robots that are helping care for Japan’s elderly. Robear is a robot that is gentle as a bear yet strong enough to lift and carry a person. It helps seniors stand and sit down. Another robot called Paro has been making headlines around the world. Built for robot animal therapy, it is extremely helpful to patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Shaped like a cute baby harp seal, Paro enhances interaction between caregivers and patients. A study on the effect of robotic pet companions revealed that they have positive effects on older people in a senior home.
Care robots are, however, expensive. The director of robot research at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan, Dr. Hirohisa Hirukawa said that ‘lifting robotics’ is only used in about 8% of nursing homes because they are partly expensive and to a certain extent because of the conviction among Japanese that care must be overseen by humans, not machines. Hirukawa’s group with the assistance of the Japanese government has helped 98 manufacturers test robotic nursing gadgets in the last 5 years. 15 products are now made commercially.
Initially, the vision was to make simple devices that would assist the elderly with daily tasks such as getting out of bed or in the bathtub for fragile patients. However, the government sees the potential for developing robots that can also predict when it is time for patients to go to the toilet. The next stage is to create wearable mobility devices and predictive technology. If all goes well and if public acceptance is improved, by 2020, 4 out of 5 patients will receive care from robots based on the country’s robot strategy and plan.
The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology is one of the biggest research organizations in Japan. Its mandate is to focus on the creation and application of technologies that are valuable to industries and society. It is composed of 5 departments and 2 centers backed by 2,000 researchers doing research activities at 10 research stations across the country.
Written by Jane Sandwood, a professional freelance writer and editor.