Academic journal article International Journal of Population Research

Population Ageing and Socially Assistive Robots for Elderly Persons: The Importance of Sociodemographic Factors for User Acceptance

Academic journal article International Journal of Population Research

Population Ageing and Socially Assistive Robots for Elderly Persons: The Importance of Sociodemographic Factors for User Acceptance

Article excerpt

Recommended by Shirlena Huang

Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital, Vienna Institute of Demography, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Wohllebengasse 12-14, 1040 Vienna, Austria

Received 2 November 2011; Revised 30 January 2012; Accepted 6 February 2012

This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

1. Introduction

Demographic changes have accelerated population ageing, which, in turn, has an impact on the care of older persons. In view of the increasing demand for care personnel, societies around the world have to find strategies for dealing with these challenges [1]. According to researchers, designers, engineers, and other experts, assistive technologies nowadays permit older persons to live independently in their home longer [2]. Support ranges from telecare/smart homes, proactive service systems, and household robots to robot-assisted therapy and socially assistive robots [3]. Surveillance systems can detect when a person falls down, test the blood pressure, recognise severe breathing or heart problems, and immediately warn a caregiver. Interactive robots cooperate with people through bidirectional communication and provide personal assistance with everyday activities such as reminding older persons to take their medication, help them prepare food, eat, and wash [2]. These technological devices collaborate with nursing staff and family members to form a life support network for older persons by offering emotional and physical relief [4].

Japan is deemed to be the first country where population ageing will become relevant in the near future (its old-age dependency ratio is estimated to reach 76% by 2050). To cope with this situation, the Japanese government wants to introduce a nationwide system of robotic assistive technologies for aged care and heavily invests into the development of so-called service and health-care robots. This is documented by research agendas, roadmaps, and visions of Japanese institutions and ministries. In Europe, investments into assistive devices (financed within the scope of the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme) advance their development. These expenses are justified by an estimated old-age dependency ratio of 49% by 2050. Although the situation is less dramatic in the USA (estimated old-age dependency ratio of 34% by 2050), the US government subsidises the development of robotic assistive technologies, whose innovative potential is reckoned to be comparable to that of the internet and modern media [5]. Advancements in medical care and other fields of society may change the old-age dependency ratio, because older people will stay healthier until higher ages than they do nowadays [6]. As the retirement age increases, older persons might stay more independent until higher ages than currently projected on the basis of the old-age dependency ratio.

However, using robots to assist older persons should not be accepted uncritically as a solution to the problems caused by population ageing. In his dissertation, Neven [7] refers to an ageing-and-innovation discourse which revolves around researchers', designers', and engineers' perceptions of older people and presents population ageing as a crisis situation with increasing costs for older persons and decreasing numbers of care staff. Assistive technologies are considered a triple win solution: they not only ease the problems of societies and individual older adults but also propel the economy. Oudshoorn and Pinch state that "different types of users do not necessarily imply homogeneous categories" [8, page 6]. Users may differ in various ways, for example, by gender, age, sociodemographic factors, and culture. Designers, researchers and other professionals involved in devising technologies often fail to critically appraise older adults in line with their individual backgrounds and needs [9]. …

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