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Elderly More Willing to Accept Help from Robots Than Many May Expect

Older adults generally open to robot assistance in the home, but preferred it for daily living tasks rather than personal help

Sept. 13, 2012 – Research has well established that the elderly in the U.S. prefer to maintain their independence and remain in their homes as they age. A key to making this possible can be robotic technology. A new study has produced results that surprised many – seniors are not opposed to a little robotic help, but they are a little picky about which things robots should do for them.

Today’s robots can assist with a variety of everyday living tasks, but limited research has existed on senior citizens’ attitudes and acceptance of robots as caregivers and aides. Human factors/ergonomics researchers investigated older adults’ willingness to receive robot assistance that allows them to age in place.

 

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Changes that occur with aging can make the performance of various tasks of daily living more difficult, such as eating, getting dressed, using the bathroom, bathing, preparing food, using the telephone, and cleaning house. When older adults can no longer perform these tasks, an alternative to moving to a senior living facility or family member’s home may someday be to bring in a robot helper.

In their HFES Annual Meeting proceedings paper, “Older Adults’ Preferences for and Acceptance of Robot Assistance for Everyday Living Tasks,” researchers Cory-Ann Smarr and colleagues at the Georgia Institute of Technology showed groups of adults age 65 to 93 a video of a robot’s capabilities and then asked them how they would feel about having a robot in their homes.

“Our results indicated that the older adults were generally open to robot assistance in the home, but they preferred it for some daily living tasks and not others,” said Smarr.

Participants indicated a willingness for robotic assistance with chores such as housekeeping and laundry, with reminders to take medication and other health-related tasks, and with enrichment activities such as learning new information or skills or participating in hobbies.

These older adults preferred human assistance in personal tasks, including eating, dressing, bathing, and grooming, and with social tasks such as phoning family or friends.

“There are many misconceptions about older adults having negative attitudes toward robots,” continued Smarr.

“The older adults we interviewed were very enthusiastic and optimistic about robots in their everyday lives. Although they were positive, they were still discriminating with their preferences for robot assistance. Their discrimination highlights the need for us to continue our research to understand how robots can support older adults with living independently.”

The researchers will present their findings at the upcoming HFES 56th Annual Meeting in Boston.

The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society is the world's largest nonprofit individual-member, multidisciplinary scientific association for human factors/ergonomics professionals, with more than 4,600 members globally. HFES members include psychologists and other scientists, designers, and engineers, all of whom have a common interest in designing systems and equipment to be safe and effective for the people who operate and maintain them.

 

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