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Nurses open to idea of robots

Front-line staff in the nursing and care sector would welcome sensor and robot technology in nursing homes and the homes of elderly people.

The reason is that such a move would free up time that personnel could use for social contact with clients.
They also believe that sensors and robots will enable elderly people to stay longer in their own homes.

These are some of the results of a study carried out by SINTEF for the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities.

The background for the study is the “elderly boom” and the challenges that the nursing and care sector will face when fewer and fewer people of working age have to look after a rapidly growing population of old people.

Freeing up time

The survey found that staff regard cleaning, and moving and lifting patients as potential applications for “care and nursing robots”. They also concluded that the development and introduction of new technology should take place in such a way that the level of social support that they provide will be maintained, or preferably, be improved.

Several different categories of nursing and care personnel in Porsanger, Kongsberg and Trondheim were interviewed; of these, 29 individual staff members were interviewed in depth.

At first, many of the informants were sceptical to the idea of introducing robots into Norwegian homes and nursing homes. However, in the course of the interviews many of them began to mention situations in which they could imagine using a robot.

Help with dirty clothes

“It is worth noting that the staff still prefer themselves to perform tasks that currently require personal contact. However, they would like routine tasks such as dealing with dirty clothes to be handled by a robot,” says Kristine Holbø of SINTEF Technology and Society, who led the project.

Safety sensors

Where sensors are concerned, many care and nursing personnel are most concerned about monitoring the safety of old people. One home nursing respondent mentioned that if people who live at home need to have their health monitored by sensors, they ought to be in a nursing home!

As part of the project, SINTEF also carried out a survey of existing and potential technology that could be relevant to the needs mentioned by the interviewees.

However, project manager Kristine Holbø warns our politicians that they should not use the report as a signal to let a whole raft of technologies loose in the care and nursing sector.

“So far, we have only interviewed personnel. The next step will be to talk to all the user groups, map their wishes and needs, and start to test remedies on a small scale,” says Holbø.

Avoiding “technology push”

The project manager also emphasises that it is by no means certain that modern technology is the answer to all the problems of this sector, but that mechanical solutions and organisational changes may be the best in certain cases.

“We need to be sure that any devices that we introduce are functional, and have to avoid “pushing” technology onto the users,” says Holbø, who also points out that there already exist technologies that could could have been used successfully, but which were stopped by bureaucratic barriers.

“For example, consider the situation of a dementia patient who walks out of the house in the middle of the night and wanders around the streets.

This could easily be prevented by a simple door-mounted alarm that warns a monitoring centre, but the way things are today, such a person virtually must be declared mentally incompetent before this type of alarm can be installed.

And while the mills of officialdom grind exceedingly slow, the patient may well  become so reduced that she or he has already been admitted to a nursing home by the time that the alarm can be installed.”