As the world gets older, countries and companies are looking at more innovative ways to combat the issue of loneliness, which has been linked to myriad diseases.
In the U.S. more than 40 million Americans are 65 or older. By 2050, those aged 85 and older age group is estimated to reach 19 million people, according to the Institute of Aging. That is equal to five percent of the country’s total population.
In the UK, almost 20 percent of the country’s 66 million people are over 65, according to the Office for National Statistics. With ageing comes the threat of loneliness.
The UK has the highest rates of loneliness in the European Union — 9 million older adults feel lonely, but most of them are ashamed to admit it, according to an Age UK report. The situation in the U.S and around the world is not much better (Chicago Tribune).
Research from University of California, San Francisco, also links this phenomenon with dementia, early mortality and high blood pressure. Brigham Young University research also discovered that lonely people had a 50 percent increased risk of early death, compared to those with good social connections. (Telegraph)
To help combat the problem, Britain has just appointed a minister for loneliness to develop a strategy to address the issue (Business Insider). But there are other, more future-focused solutions, on the horizon.
Technology can not only improve connectivity, address health, work and care challenges, but also it can help older populations unlock the potential benefits of living better and longer, according to a report by the UK Government Office for Science.
To this end, an Israeli company called Intuition Robotics has created a robot that will act as an “active-aging companion” — specifically to address the problem of loneliness in older adults.
Intuition Robotics has come up with a solution: ElliQ the “autonomous active-aging companion.”
ElliQ connects a family with the user by checking social media and making sure they call their children. Its creators call it a connective tool which gives the space and privacy necessary for the user to feel in control.
CNBC calls it a “smart voice assistant with a personality.” The robot comes with a swiveling head, a removable tablet and cameras. “It can help remind senior citizens of upcoming calendar appointments, show pictures from the family, receive and send messages and more.”
Intuition Robotics say ElliQ is also supposed to serve as a companion for the elderly.
“One of the main goals when building the software was to respect the dignity of the older adult that sometimes can feel like a burden,” CEO Dor Skuler recently told a gathering of journalists in Israel.
Its creators say ElliQ is a solution to the digital divide between old and new generations, ideal for families that live in different countries.
The robot is currently under testing in the U.S, but it is expected that by the end of this year ElliQ will be available in stores (San Francisco Chronicle).
Julie Carpenter, a researcher from Washington University, studies interaction with emerging technologies, with a special focus on robots. She compares ElliQ with Paro, a robot that has been used as a therapy tool with all sort of patients, including those with dementia (Guardian).
“Paro and robots like it are not meant to replace people or interaction with people, but to assist people in therapeutic ways,” Carpenter told WikiTribune by email. “There are not substitutes for other therapies or care by people, but something to be used as one means of therapy or amusement/comfort in conjunction with other things, like regular human interaction.”
Skuler said that Intuition Robotics does not want to replace face to face interactions. Instead he wants ElliQ to promote such interactions by encouraging meetings with families and friends.