Robot assistant to improve elderly care in nursing homes

Chloe Kent 21 October 2019 (Last Updated October 21st, 2019 14:12)

Overworked care staff in nursing homes and hospitals may soon have their workload reduced with the help of a Social & Autonomous Robotic health Assistant (SARA), an innovation supported by EIT Digital.

Robot assistant to improve elderly care in nursing homes
Two pilots are currently ongoing in nursing homes in Finland and the Netherlands. Credit: Shutterstock

Overworked care staff in nursing homes and hospitals may soon have their workload reduced with the help of a Social & Autonomous Robotic health Assistant (SARA), an innovation supported by EIT Digital.

The SARA Home system is accessible through a computer or tablet and gives nurses and carers access to a personalised profile and health plan for each patient in their care.

Two pilots are currently ongoing in nursing homes in Finland and the Netherlands, with a particular focus on patients in closed psychiatric departments living with first-stage dementia.

Through specific cognitive exercises, patients in these stages are thought to be able to improve their mental and physical condition and avoid or delay the onset of the second, more acute stage of the illness. Due to limited resources in adult care facilities, staff are often unable to spend as much time one-on-one with patients carrying out these exercises as is desirable.

The SARA robotic assistant could take the burden away from carers by interacting with patients and presenting them with exercises designed to improve their condition. It is hoped that this will also help reduce safety incidents resulting from carers’ heavy workloads, such as the medication errors 13.8% of nurses deal with weekly, according to EIT Digital.

A consortium of partners has worked on SARA, including Bright Cape, Forum Virium Helsinki, GIM Robotics, Curamatik and TU Berlin.

Bright Cape data scientist Emmy Rintjema said: “We believe that robots could give a great contribution to healthcare, not to replace nurses, but to collaborate with them and reduce their workload, so they have more time to spend with their patients. They might also help reduce the errors due to high-time pressure.”

The product is currently still in the prototype stages, and is being fine-tuned in collaboration with the pilot nursing homes. The robotic system will be commercialised throughout Europe in 2020, with Germany, Finland and the Netherlands as the main targets initially.

The developers are also working on an algorithm which will allow robots to move more freely throughout specific areas of a nursing facility.