Robots, Apps and Aged Care

Article published 22 November 2018

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OFTEN when aged care providers talk about the use of digital technology and automation, what they are really talking about is reducing operational costs.

Technology can be useful in aged care. The shocking footage shown in the Four Corners program on nursing homes was shot using miniscule digital cameras. It’s doubtful a Royal Commission would have been called without the availability and use of that technology, which has great potential to improve the physical safety of residents if used widely.

Another example of digital technology that can be very useful in aged care is automated pain recognition in people with advanced dementia who are unable to speak. This technology records and analyses a person’s facial expressions. Detection of pain in non-communicative people has always, to a greater or lesser extent, depended on facial expressions.

But perhaps we should be less enthusiastic about Pepper the Robot, who has been let loose in two Queensland nursing homes on a trial basis. Pepper is a robotic assistant optimised to engage with people through conversation and a touch screen.

Regardless of whether Pepper would be an enduring hit, or a hit at all, with nursing home residents, the deployment of Pepper has about it the smell of an attempt to reduce operational costs by replacing underpaid staff with an even cheaper gadget.

There’s technology and then there’s technology.

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