New Robots Aid In Caring For Japanese Seniors

A new robot has brought Japan one step closer to its goal of providing high-quality care for its growing elderly population.

The robot uses high-precision tactile sensors and flexible motor control technology to lift patients weighing up to 80kg (180 pounds) off floor-level bedding and into a wheelchair.  The developers note this is intended to free care facility personnel of one of their most difficult and energy-consuming tasks.

Japan’s elderly population in need of nursing care is projected to reach a staggering 5.69 million by 2015 experts explain.  “Japan faces an urgent need for new approaches to assist care-giving personnel,” states Jesse Slome, executive director of the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance  “The United States will soon be facing the very same issues.” 

Care experts noted that one of the most strenuous tasks for such personnel, carried out an average of 40 times every day, is that of lifting a patient from a futon at floor level into a wheelchair. Robots are well-suited to this task, yet none have yet been deployed in care-giving facilities.

In 2009, the RIKEN-TRI Collaboration Center for Human-Interactive Robot Research (RTC), a joint project established in 2007 and located at the Nagoya Science Park in central Japan, unveiled a robot called RIBA (Robot for Interactive Body Assistance) designed to assist in this task. The first robot capable of lifting a patient from a bed to a wheelchair and back, RIBA charted a new course in the development of care-giving robots, yet functional limitations prevented its direct commercialization.

In the future, Japanese researchers plan to work together with partner nursing care facilities to test RIBA-II and further tailor it to the needs of care-givers and their patients.  They explain their intent to also develop new applications in areas such as rehabilitation. 

Robots will one day enable individuals to remain in their own home rather than being forced into skilled nursing facilities, Slome predicts.  “This should be a most welcome development for millions of Americans though they can expected to be costly,” he notes  “People will either need to have the savings or insurance to cover the cost.”  Current forms of long-term care insurance that provide cash payments would cover the rental or purchase of robots. 

The Association urges consumers to learn more about long-term care planning and get long-term care insurance cost from a designated expert via the organization’s Consumer Information Center at  “The best ages to start planning are between ages 52 and 62 when costs are lowest and you don’t risk being declined because of existing health conditions,” Slome explains.

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