It has been well documented that the majority of the global population is aging; the numbers of Generation X through Millennials will be struggling to care for their elders while caring for themselves and their families. With “estimates from the United Nations suggest the population over 65 worldwide will increase 181 percent between 2010 and 2050, compared to a 33 percent increase in people aged 15 to 65. That shift will create a large incentive to automate at least some assistive work,” according to MIT Technology Review.

Despite the growing need for elder care services, 65% of Americans who responded for a 2014 Pew Report “think it would be a change for the worse if lifelike robots become the primary caregivers for the elderly and people in poor health.” So despite some concerns, it seems obvious to also look to technology to help care for the aging population and meet the increasing demand, many companies are developing and testing devices such as service robots to fill the gap in human caregivers and potentially help more seniors continue to live in their own homes.

One European-based company, GiraffPlus is currently testing their robot companion with six older adults, including a 94-year-old Italian woman. Designed to help individuals with physical or cognitive difficulties maintain their independence beyond the point they would usually be able to live alone, the GiraffPlus robot is one element of part a smart home system. According to Amy Loutfi, director of Computer Engineering at Sweden’s Örebro Univeristy and coordinator of the GiraffPlus project, environmental sensors around the individual’s house transmit information about the inhabitant’s movements and physiological sensors to track their health. During this testing phase, the collected data is only provided to the individual’s own medical team.

Motion sensors that track location within their home and pressure sensors under beds and sofas, there are also sensors that are activated when select appliances are plugged in and sensors that monitor when doors and windows are open or closed. In addition, the robot can use devices that measure weight, blood pressure and blood sugar as well as allow virtual video visits from friends, family, and healthcare professionals.

The robot is a not autonomous and select users, such as family members or medical professionals, can also direct it remotely around the house to check in on the inhabitant. As Loutfi explained to Motherboard, “all of the data from the sensors is stored in the database and based on this we can extract some activities, like if the person is sleeping or the person got up during the night; the person is watching television or cooking.” The 24/7 monitoring robot is not intended to replace human interaction but to complement it.

Facing their own aging population, the Japanese government has been actively supporting the use of robots and robotic services as a solution for elder care. With approximately 40 percent of Japanese residents aged 65 or older by 2060, IT World reported that senior care solutions were prominently showcased during the October 2014 Japan Robot Week trade show in Tokyo. Osaka startup, RT Works, displayed a prototype-connected walker called Encore Smart. Looking similar to shopping cart, the walker featured handlebars and brakes above its cargo basket and six-axis motion sensors that can automatically trigger motors to help push it up an incline or brakes to slow it down on a decline.

While those features can help users walk more safely and potentially further, the Encore Smart walker also comes equipped with voice guidance function and a GPS unit that can relay location data via linked computers, allowing caregivers to see where users are as well as how far a user has walked on a that day. In addition, caregivers can receive an alert via their smartphone if the walker travels beyond a predefined zone; especially important if the user suffers from dementia or Alzheimer’s. The company hopes to launch the Encore Smart walker within Japan next June and then eventually market the device in the U.S., though a price has yet to be determined.

If that time has come when you or a family member can no longer maintain an independent lifestyle, please contact the knowledgeable staff at ElderLink to help you find elder care services or an assisted living facility within California that is customized for your needs.