As the aging services industry faces increasing staffing needs and a growing population of older adults in need of assistance, one proposed solution is the use of assistive robots. However, older adults’ perceptions of this potential technology will likely significantly impact its adoption. With this in mind, researchers sought out the impressions of one group of older adults who could potentially benefit from assistive robot technology: individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
For older adults experiencing cognitive decline, three main functions for robots have been proposed. First is providing assurance that an individual is safe and performing necessary daily activities. If this is not the case, the robot could contact a caregiver. Second, robots could help compensate for impairment and assist in the performance of daily activities, for example IADLs such as finance and medication management. Third, robots could evaluate an older adult’s cognitive status.
Though focus groups and interviews, the researchers found that older adults with MCI had both positive and negative images of robots. Some felt robots were useful for performing certain tasks, while others felt they were “inhuman” and not trustworthy. In terms of the specific ways that robots could be of use to older adults with MCI, participants were unenthusiastic, pointing out that there were already systems that could perform the functions described via diaries, computers, mobile phones, wearable pendants, and GPS. The functions of robots that were positively received included offering cognitive stimulation and assistance finding lost objects. When asked who robots might be useful for, the participants pointed to populations other than themselves: the lonely, the very old, or the very disabled. For themselves, the study participants felt that using a robot would be stigmatizing. Another major concern was that using robots could decrease the amount of human contact for an older adult.
In order for robots to be successfully adopted by individuals with MCI, the concerns raised by this study will need to be overcome. Robots would need to be positively received and shown to deliver value to older adults beyond what is available from current systems that provide support to individuals with MCI.
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Wu Y-H, Cristancho-Lacroix V, Fassert C, et al. Informing understandings of mild cognitive impairment for older adults: implications from a scoping review. Journal of Applied Gerontology (2016); Vol. 35(1): 3–17