Social interaction and medical care are incredibly important for many elderly Americans. Unfortunately, the cost of providing this assistance can be a major emotional and financial burden on caregivers.
Care-giving for older Americans with dementia costs an estimated $18 billion annually according to a University of Michigan study. Caring for individuals with depression costs an additional $9 billion.
The fact is, 80% of caregivers provide unpaid assistance seven days a week. There are over 43 million people providing unpaid support and they are losing wages as a result.
A 2010 MetLife study reported that the average working caregiver is subject to a loss of $567 thousand in wages over his lifetime as a result of his responsibilities. And that’s not to mention out of pocket expenses such as food, transportation, and medication.
On top of all this, demand for caregivers is expected to rise 20 percent within the next fifteen years.
Fortunately, recent advancements in technology are working to relieve many of the pressures associated with caregiving.
The Elder-Care Robot
Researchers in Sweden are bringing robots to in-home care. The European Union’s Seventh Framework has funded the GiraffPlus program which has successfully created a robot that monitors elderly health and allows for virtual visits.
The GiraffPlus continuously monitors a users health through a network of sensors throughout the home. These sensors can measure blood pressure, individual movements, and body temperature. The information is recorded and linked to an on-line system.
So if a user takes a fall or suddenly stops moving, the system has the ability to alert emergency services and caregivers. And because all the information is recorded, it can be used to guide long term health assessments.
The GiraffPlus can even chart an individuals sleeping activity, allowing caregivers and medical professionals to respond appropriately.
The system allows caregivers to virtually visit patients through an equipped monitor and speaker system. These visits can be made at any time and allow caregivers and patients to communicate health measures and concerns based on the information collected by the GiraffPlus.
In addition to health care benefits, the system also offers social incentives. Users can freely choose who is allowed to access to the system. This option enables family members to virtually visit users while also ensuring patient privacy.
For an elderly person living alone, the ability to socialize is often just as important as health-care. The social interaction provided by the GiraffPlus system is arguably as compelling of a feature as the monitoring system is.
The GiraffPlus system was recently tested in a demonstration apartment and is now expected to reach fifteen homes in three countries.
GiraffPlus is off to a great start but it will be some time before it reaches any form of commercial production. However, remote medical presence is already beginning to enter the U.S. market.
iRobot (NASDAQ: IRBT) produces the RP-VITA, an FDA cleared Class II device offering remote consultation and real time access to data in various medical settings.
The device boasts more advanced technology than the Giraff Plus, being outfitted with an HD monitor and teleconference capabilities.
And unlike the remote controlled GiraffPlus, the RP-VITA is self-navigating – the device uses technology similar to that used in iRobot’s Roomba vacuum cleaners in order travel autonomously.
The RP-VITA wont be entering the in-home market though as is – the cost of the technology is close to $60 thousand which would be a too large of a price tag for most consumers.
However, the RP-VITA operates on the self-navigating Ava Mobile Robotics Platform which can be adapted for a variety of uses. iRobot is looking to use the platform for material transport, factory inspection, mobile security, and caregiver support among other applications.
Fortunately, much of the RP-VITA’s expense comes from its medical applications in hospitals that are not used for basic care-giving. A stripped down version of the RP-VITA would actually be affordable for many elderly consumers.
And with iRobot offering leasing programs on their Ava Platforms, this could easily become an economically viable solution for in-home care.
Most importantly, this method of remote care would significantly decrease the aforementioned expenses associated with caregiving by minimizing the need for physical visits. iRobot is the only player focused on this growing market and is likely to see revenue growth from caregiving robots in the near future.
Turning progress to profits,