Seniors are stuck at home — can technology help?
The coronavirus is a confusing virus. It’s still unknown why it has a lower impact on kids, how many people are asymptomatic, or where COVID toes come from. One thing we do know is the coronavirus is particularly hard on seniors. According to the CDC, 8 out of 10 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the U.S. have been in adults 65 years old and older.
Given this fact, it’s even more important that we keep seniors sheltered and protected from this virus. But, doing so means they will be starved of human connection and more isolated than others.
At Onward, we started the company to support the Aging in Place mission, and we offer a service to provide freedom and independence for seniors. With many of those rides on hold until the pandemic passes, how can seniors connect with others? Well, similar to how Zoom is stepping in to help bring schools and workplaces online, other technology companies are stepping in to provide solutions for loneliness and social isolation among seniors and assisted living facilities.
Let’s look at a few new technologies that are making it safe for senior communities:
The first is a robot named ElliQ. She looks like a lamp and is being placed in rooms of residents at assisted living facilities. ElliQ understands speech so it can hold a conversation and talk with seniors. It can also make video calls, play music, share photos from loved ones, read news and weather, and remind a senior about their daily medicine or diet. It’s not a person, but when someone is stuck inside all day, it’s better than nothing. Watch ElliQ in action
Our second is a socially assistive robot named Stevie. He has sensors and motors but also humanlike features like a face, eyes, and a smile, so it feels more natural to interact with. It is taller than a typical robot and rolls throughout a facility. Stevie can also play bingo and talk, so he becomes more like a friend or a fellow resident than just a dumb screen.Watch Stevie entertain friends
Our third example is a robotic puppy for seniors. This dog is not as sophisticated as ElliQ or Stevie, but it’s definitely cuter. The robot dog has built-in sensors and speakers so she can bark back when called or touched. It also has a heartbeat and lifelike fur to mimic a real-life dog. In 2019, New York piloted 30 cats and 30 pups with socially isolated older adults living at home. Robotic cats and pups are usually given to people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias as a form of calming pet therapy, but data has shown that using pets to decrease social isolation is highly successful — 70% of pilot participants reported a decrease or significant decrease in isolation after one year. In total, through all their partnerships, more than 1,000 robots have been distributed to older adults that are being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s not just new startups helping out. Google is making their Nest products easier to use so it can work for seniors or those in assisted living facilities. Their new Nest product, called the Nest Max, makes it easy to play music, conduct video calls, and read about news and the weather. In the Nest Max, they pre-loaded a shortlist of contacts, making video calls even easier. There are also “What can you do?” cards too, that act like shortcuts for showing weather reports, setting alarms or playing relaxing sounds. Google sent 1100 of these units to facilities in Washington State to test them out.
If the above stories aren’t futuristic enough for you, then how about this: UPS and CVS are starting to deliver their prescriptions to seniors in Florida via drone. This is done in an effort to keep new contacts from entering the facilities, keeping the disease outside their doors. Each drone can carry up to 5 lbs each and travel up to 12 miles. They fly autonomously from a CVS location to nearby assisted living and nursing homes, then drop off the packages from a hover height of around 20 feet above these locations.
These are scary times, and it’s fascinating to see how some great minds and companies are being creative and coming up with technical solutions so we can be in contact with our loved ones, without getting too close.