Nursing home robots to be debuted in Japan for care of the elderly

The Japanese government has unveiled plans to provide substantial financial assistance to certain companies in Japan which develop robots for nursing homes at low cost. The government is seeking to combat the important challenges posed by Japan’s large population of elderly people, as well as boosting the country’s economic growth, and is looking to support the development of robots with specific functions that will allow them to assist with specific nursing care tasks, assisting the elderly in their day-to-day activities and relieving the workload for busy nursing home workers.

According to the government, the development plan will focus initially on four main types of robots, each designed to carry out a specific care function. The first care robot is equipped with a motor which allows it to aid in lifting and moving wheelchair- or bed-bound patients, saving nurses and carers valuable physical strength. The second is a robot which will assist elderly patients, or other patients who have difficulty walking, to walk independently. The third robot is a portable, self-cleaning toilet, the introduction of which will make it easier for the elderly to use the toilet, as it can be relocated to wherever it is needed. The fourth and final care robot will be a robot which monitors the location of patients with Alzheimers and dementia, a kind of ‘tracking system’ for patients at risk of getting lost.

The Japanese government is hoping to revise nursing care insurance to include the use of these four robots. From the start of this fiscal year, the government is expected to provide a substantial amount of funding to firms which would develop these nursing care robots, contributing up to 50-60 per cent of the research and development costs involved. These robots will be a far cry from the human-esque, high-tech nursing robots which can cost an average of £130,000 (20 million yen), and indeed the robots envisaged by the Japanese government will lie around the £700 mark, so as to be able to mass-produce the robots for commercial use.

The need for robotic assistance in nursing and care homes is further highlighted by startling statistics provided by the Japanese Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry. A recent report claimed that Japan is in dire need of care workers, falling some 700,000 short of the target number of workers in 2010, with an expected shortage of 4 million workers by 2025. With low-cost robotic assistance introduced into care homes, it is hoped that this deficit may be levelled somewhat, by reducing the burden borne by current care workers.

Sources include The Japan Daily Press, Tokyo Times

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