Robots could deliver a higher standard of care than poorly skilled care workers, according to one of Japan’s leading providers of aged care.
Hitoshi Fukomoto, the executive director of Kinoshita Care, said his organisation was looking to cutting-edge robotic technology to deliver greater efficiencies in care and to help plug the gap in chronic labour shortages.
Speaking to Australian Ageing Agenda following his keynote address at the Australasia Ageing Global Masterclass on Monday, Mr Fukomoto said the application of robotic technologies in aged care had the potential to standardise care for the elderly and provide much needed assistance in the areas of manual labour and personal care.
“While robots cannot exceed the best quality care workers, they are a lot more efficient and deliver better care than the workers with no or poor skills,” he said.
He said robotics could be especially useful in managing incontinence in older people and might be preferable to human care in this area.
Mr Fukomoto told the Sydney forum the robotics market in Japan was growing rapidly and was backed by government subsidies for research and development.
In 2013, the Japanese Government launched a plan to accelerate the development of nursing care robots by providing financial subsidies to companies to research and develop new technologies.
The government outlined four priority areas for growth including transfer care, mobility assistance, dementia care and continence care.
Kinoshita Care, which first introduced social robots into its 142 facilities in 2012, has recently started investing in care robotics including the purchase of 40 robot power suits that support care workers to lift and move bed-bound residents.
Beds have also been developed which incorporate automated toileting and washing systems for continence management and others that can be separated and turned into a wheelchair.
“This technology can reduce the workload of families or care workers,” said Mr Fukumoto.
The Hybrid Assistive Limb or HAL, which is worn an exoskeleton suit, can also be used in rehabilitation to assist people to regain physical function.
In the area of communication-type robots, PALRO, a humanoid robot has proven to be popular among aged care residents and is mainly used for social interaction and recreation. PALRO uses facial recognition to communicate with residents and has the capacity to remember up to 100 people’s faces. It can also sing, play games and provide news updates.
The robotic seal PARO is primarily used with older people with dementia to reduce stress, anxiety and social isolation. Its application in an Australian context is currently the subject of a three-year study by Professor Wendy Moyle from Griffith University.
Mr Fukumoto said ensuring high standards of safety and promoting the acceptance of robotics among care workers were some of the key challenges to widespread use.
The government is currently funding research and development of aged care robotics but in the next phase of its acceleration program will subsidise the purchase of these technologies by industry, he said.
“When the camera was introduced a long time ago people were so afraid they believed that the camera sucked out your soul and so they tried to avoid it. There were similar stories when cars or trains were invented. The same goes for robots.”
The Australasia Ageing Global Masterclass is hosted by Ageing Asia and takes place in Melbourne today and in Brisbane on Friday.