Did you know that there are over 40,000 people over the age of 100 living in Japan? With one of the highest life expectancies in the world, Japan is facing a demographic crisis. While longer lifespans are a cause for celebration, Japan, like many western countries, is struggling to support their aging population.
Much has been said about the impact that aging populations will have on the world’s healthcare systems, economies and social structures. Simply put, how are we going to provide adequate services for the elderly in the coming decades?
Japanese government and business leaders are thinking about all of these issues. At the same time, they are anticipating the very personal challenges of isolation and loneliness that older people often face. The question is: how can we help elderly patients in nursing homes feel comfortable, stimulated, stress free and happy? Japanese robotics company Parorobots thinks they have an answer.
They have designed a furry little device, called the Paro therapeutic robot. At $3,850, it’s anything but cheap. But, it can be leased for $155 a month. They call it a “therapeutic” robot because it is designed to reduce stress and bring a sense of calm to patients suffering from dementia. Paro was also used in a senior care facility for elderly victims of Japan’s tsunami disaster.
On the surface, Paro looks like a toy, but, they are much more than that. Paro is able to feel, see, hear and sense temperature, allowing it to recognize its environment. To a certain extent, Paro also “bonds” with its owner, learning to respond in a way that he or she prefers.
Now, at this point, you may be asking, why not just get a cat? I thought the same thing at first. But, when you think about it, many of the patients that the Paro therapeutic robot is designed for are in a quite fragile state. As a result, they may not feel comfortable with an unpredictable animal that also needs to be taken care of.
If you’re in your 60s or even 70s, Paro might seem unnecessary at best, or, even a little bit creepy. However, I have to admit that I used to be quite fond of my son’s huge seal teddy bear. It was actually quite calming. So, who knows, maybe in a couple of decades, I’ll be ready for something like Paro.
One thing is for sure – in the coming years, the field of robotics is coming to have a big impact on people of all ages. Japan has always been on the leading edge of innovation in this area and I’m sure that we can expect exciting new developments from them in the near future. With a little understanding from people, and a little help from technology, we can build an environment that is safe, stimulating and fun for those of us who are lucky enough to live to 100 and beyond. It will be fascinating to see how the options for independent senior living evolve.
What do you think of the Paro therapeutic robotic seal? Can you see a time in the future when you might want to own or lease one?
(Image courtesy Parorobots.com)