Aging at Home ... With Robots?

Though we don’t yet live in Jetsons-style homes with robots doing all the housework, robotic technologies are in the works to help seniors stay safe and healthy at home. Are older adults willing to accept this type of electronic assistance?

A study from Georgia Institute of Technology asked older adults if they are willing to use robots in the home for daily tasks. (Photo: Wendy Rogers/Georgia Institute of Technology)

Robots have the potential to help older adults with daily activities that can become more challenging with age. But are people willing to use this new technology? A study by the Georgia Institute of Technology indicates the answer is yes, unless the tasks involve personal care or social activities.

After showing older adults age 65 - 93 a video of a robot’s capabilities, researchers interviewed them about their willingness for assistance with 48 common household tasks. Participants generally preferred robotic help over human help for chores such as cleaning the kitchen, doing laundry and taking out the trash. But when it came to help getting dressed, eating and bathing, the adults tended to say they would prefer human assistance over robot assistance. They also preferred human help for social activities, such as calling family and friends or entertaining guests.

Georgia Tech School of Psychology graduate teaching assistant Cory-Ann Smarr presented the results of the study at the 2012 annual meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. Smarr said, "There are many misconceptions about older adults having negative attitudes toward robots. The people we interviewed were very enthusiastic and optimistic about robots in their daily lives. They also were very particular in their preferences, something that can assist researchers as they determine what to design and introduce in the home."

Smarr and psychology professor Wendy Rogers, the principal investigator on the project, also noticed that preferences varied across tasks, such as medication. For instance, adults said they are willing to use a robot for reminders to take medicine, but they are more comfortable if a person helps them decide which medication to take.

"It seems that older people are less likely to trust a robot with decision-making tasks than with monitoring or physical assistance," said Rogers. "Researchers should be careful not to generalize preferences when designing assistive robots."

The older adults in the study were all healthy and independent, and nearly 75 percent said they used everyday technologies such as cellphones and appliances. The research team is planning future studies for adults who currently need help with everyday tasks.

Source: Georgia Institute of Technology. This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. The content is solely the responsibility of the principal investigators and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIA or NSF.

Learn More

The Eldercare Locator offers a free six-page booklet, "Staying Connected: Technology Options for Older Adults," describing communications technologies seniors and families are using to keep in touch.

Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.