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.
With a rapidly ageing population, the number of people with dementia and other age-related disabilities is expected to soar by 2050.
The concept of applying findings from different technological areas to assist people in their daily activities, while also alleviating pressures on health professionals and carers, has emerged as a potential solution.
It is these Quality of Life Technologies (QOLTs) that are of particular interest to Dr Oscar Martinez Mozos, Lecturer in the School of Computer Science at the University of Lincoln, UK.
During the last two and a half years Dr Mozos has been working on assistive robotic technologies at Kyushu University in Japan, where he currently keeps a position as an external collaborative researcher.
He is bringing together some of the world’s leading researchers in this area at a special session for an international conference to be held in Spain from 10th to 14th June 2013.
Dr Mozos, whose research specifically focusses on the application of computer science to service robotics, assistive technologies, medicine and industry, said: “Typical applications for QOLTS are support aids for people with some kind of disability, such as assistance robots and rehabilitation technologies, but they also include powerful tools to improve well-being of individuals and society in general. It’s basically using technology to enhance the lives of people in any way, whether it is by programming robots to perform specific tasks or through the delivery of medicines. The aim of the conference is to bring together the top academics in this field and link the various disciplines, which include engineering, computer science, medicine, psychology and social sciences.”
Dr Mozos is now working with colleagues to collate the diverse research strands in a special issue of the IEEE Journal of Biomedical and Health Informatics in June 2014.
Professor Cipriano Galindo, from the University of Malaga, Spain, and Professor Adriana Tapus, from the ENSTA-ParisTech, France, are also guest editors.
A project Professor Galindo is involved in aims to develop a system that will perform a range of services, including data collection and analysis of human behaviours through a ‘telepresence’ robot. The Giraff+ system will be installed and evaluated in at least 15 homes of elderly people in Sweden, Italy and Spain.
Professor Tapus is currently working on how assistive robots can provide affordable and personalised cognitive assistance, motivation and companionship to users suffering from conditions related to ageing or Alzheimer’s disease.
She said: “An important and growing trend in modern robotics research is to create robots with human-like qualities, which will allow robots to interact naturally with humans and to become a part of our lives. The main advantages of my research project are that it provides time-extended personalised cognitive and social interaction and “exercise” in a robot-supervised fashion. This is an entirely novel area of research in assistive and rehabilitation robotics and it opens up a broad avenue for future discovery and development.”
The fifth International Work-conference on the Interplay between Natural and Artificial Computation (IWINAC2013), where Dr Martinez Mozos will be leading a special session on Quality of Life Technologies, takes place in Palma de Mallorca, Balearic Islands, Spain, on 10th to 14th June 2013.
Source: University of Lincoln