By 2050, there will be more than 2 billion people aged 60 and over on the planet. The World Health Organization proposed an action plan called United Nations Decade of Healthy Ageing 2021-2030 in order to better meet the health needs and guarantee the dignity of older people, their families and their communities.(1) To achieve this ambitious vision, there is a need to harness technological, scientific, medical, and digital innovations that can foster healthy aging.
Many of these innovations are increasingly relying on "artificial intelligence" (AI). In the long-term care sector, AI can enable and improve various technologies such as remote-monitoring systems, recommendation and decision support softwares, social assistance robots, and virtual assistants that interact with older adults and their caregivers on a daily basis.(2) Despite its potential, questions remain about the effectiveness and acceptability of AI in long-term care.
What research tells us
A recent systematic review of 31 studies focused on the acceptability and effectiveness of AI-enhanced technologies with older adults in the specific context of long-term care.(3) All studies were conducted in high-income countries with older people receiving long-term care in nursing homes, assisted living facilities or units for people with dementia. Only one study looked at long-term home care. The technologies studied were of three types: social robots, environmental sensors and wearable sensors. The services offered by these tools were varied: monitoring of vital signs and falls, entertainment, video calls, cognitive games, assistance in carrying out daily activities.
Here are the main findings:
• Mixed acceptability
Research shows that the acceptability of social bots varies depending on the type of bot used and its function. Some seniors may react negatively to social bots, although studies show that acceptability improves over time. Other elderly people become attached to the robots, experience distress when separated from them and develop a possessive feeling which can become problematic in a context of sharing robots between several residents. In addition, elderly people with dementia risk being infantilized by certain technologies and may be led to believe that the robot is a real pet, which represents an ethical issue.
The acceptability of environmental sensors and wearable sensors is low among seniors, as they challenge the usefulness of monitoring systems and the guarantee of data confidentiality. However, caregivers appreciate their ease of use and ability to keep seniors safe.
• Mixed effects on symptoms of depression, quality of life, agitation and cognition
Studies did not find significant effects on depressive symptoms, quality of life, degree of agitation, or cognition. Indeed, although some studies have shown some improvement in these elements, others have seen the opposite effect occur.
• Positive effects on social and behavioral aspects
The researchers mention that the use of certain companion robots significantly reduces the feeling of loneliness and improves the communication and social skills of seniors, as well as their perception of social support. Additionally, participants who interact with companion robots significantly improve their overall participation in activities and are more engaged verbally, physically, and visually.
Would you be reassured to have access to these technologies?
Would you like to have a companion robot able to hold a conversation and remind you to take your medication? Would you agree to a network of hidden sensors monitoring your vital signs and notifying your loved ones and your doctor in the event of an emergency? We have to think about it, AI is at our doorstep!