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New York State buys companion robots for seniors

The New York State Office of Aging, which is responsible for administering housing, transportation and health programs for seniors, has purchased more than 800 robots to act as companions for older adults. The robot, ElliQ, was created by Intuition Robotics specifically for adults 65 and older who live alone, according to the company’s website.

ElliQ, a desktop device that looks like a virtual assistant like Alexa or Siri, can chat, answer questions, remind users to take medication, help contact friends and family, start a conversation, and help with other daily activities . According to the company, users interact with the robot an average of 20 times a day.

“Many features attracted us to ElliQ: it’s a proactive tool, it remembers interactions with the individual, it focuses on health and wellness, stress reduction, sleep, hydration, etc.,” he said. NYSOFA director Greg Olsen to James Vincent of The Verge last month. . “It focuses on what matters to people: memories, validation of life, interactions with friends and family, and promotes overall health and well-being.”

In 2017, the U.S. surgeon general called social isolation an “epidemic,” according to a NYSOFA statement, and the Covid-19 pandemic has only made it worse.

Loneliness can cause a myriad of negative health effects, such as “depression, poor sleep quality, impaired executive function, accelerated cognitive impairment, poor cardiovascular function, and impaired immunity at all stages of life.” wrote Amy Novotney for the American Psychological Association in 2019. According to the APA, it can increase health risks to the same extent as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or having an alcohol-related disorder.

Loneliness also costs money; it is associated with $ 6.7 billion a year in additional Medicare spending among older adults, according to the AARP. Emotional support animals like dogs are often used to help with loneliness, but animals have their own drawbacks. They require self-care, may have health needs, and in the case of dogs, often respond to a single person and may be stressed in group situations.

A 2018 study in The Gerontologist suggested that robots could reduce loneliness and stress and improve engagement and interaction, although the authors wrote that more research is needed.

“When we started creating ElliQ, we had one goal in mind: to help our aging population live healthy, happy, and independent lives at home,” Intuition Robotics CEO and co-founder Dor Skuler wrote in a post on blog last month. “At a time when older adults are at greater risk of loneliness and social isolation, ElliQ offers another form of companionship, which complements traditional in-person support.”

“The goal is to measure. We’ll see what [ElliQ] it does, and how it does, “Olsen told Andrew Waite in the Schenectady Daily Gazette in May.” We have a lot of people who are already in our customer base who are older, who live alone, who have chronic illnesses, who may they have no family or friends nearby. These are individuals who are absolutely capable of using technology and we want to see what this does for their overall health and well-being. ”

The use of robots to help care for the elderly is not without controversy, The Verge reported. An article published in Ethics and Information Technology in 2020 describes social robots as “misleading” and states that there is a risk that users will neglect human relationships in favor of their relationship with the robot.

“Emotional bonds could have negative consequences for vulnerable adults, such as those with dementia or other cognitive impairments,” the authors write. “Robotic companions that give rise to the misleading illusion that they care and understand, could lead to a reduction in contact with other humans for vulnerable people. Friends, family, and caregivers in general, could reach believing that the social and bonding needs of an elderly person were being met by a fellow robot or a pet and, as a result, could reduce the time they spent with them. ”

ElliQ is designed to complement human social interaction, not impersonate it, Olsen said in the NYSOFA statement.

“We’re not trying to replace humans with any artificial intelligence,” Olsen told the Schenectady Daily Gazette. “We live in a technological world and we’re learning not only what is available, but also how to use these things to really improve your life. Not to replace things, but for our overall health and well-being. That’s just the future.”

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