We founded Intuition Robotics with the goal of helping older adults cope with loneliness and social isolation. Never has this been more important than right now.
COVID-19 has made a bad situation worse for millions of older adults. Many were socially isolated before, and now it is the same, only more so. I wanted to share with you what we are doing and the results we are seeing using ElliQ as an intervention. We hope that the silver lining of the pandemic will be that this important topic will become in focus now, and long after COVID-19 is over.
To help out during these turbulent times, we decided to do our share by providing ElliQ free of charge to older adults in the US that are willing to provide us with some feedback to continue improving our offering.
If you’re passionate about this topic and have additional ideas, please reach out to me on Twitter — @dorskuler.
Loneliness and social isolation before and during COVID
In just a few short months, COVID-19 has drastically changed nearly every aspect of our lives — from the way we work, learn, shop, and exercise, to how we interact with others. While some of us have been quick to adapt to these changes, others — especially older adults — are now faced with even more challenges and frustrations.
Not only are they at higher risk of getting sick, but their social and family ties — which were already limited in the first place — are now completely cut off, as senior facilities shutter their doors, and family members are unable to visit their aging loved ones. What’s more, the frustrations around attempting to adopt the technology that many of us take for granted can make older adults feel even more isolated and disconnected from society.
Though this pandemic has opened the eyes of many to the immense adversities of social isolation, for many seniors aging in place alone, these hardships are sadly nothing new. Loneliness and social isolation have been, in a sense, silent pandemics for millions of older adults across the globe, since long before the coronavirus began to emerge. One study found that around 43% of older adult participants (ages 60 and up) reported feeling lonely. And when you consider the stigma around loneliness, it’s likely that the true number is much higher.
Quarantine and social distancing have made this bad situation worse. People that were previously isolated have now become completely cut off.
To make matters worse, these conditions have serious impacts on aging seniors’ physical, mental, and emotional health over time. Research has linked feelings of loneliness throughout the aging process to a variety of significant health issues, including heart disease, high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, Alziemer’s disease, and more. One study even went so far as to put loneliness on par with the most prominent known mortality factors, such as obesity, lack of physical activity, and substance abuse. And the healthcare costs associated with loneliness and isolation are substantial — a recent AARP study with Stanford found that socially isolated older adults led to around $6.7 billion in additional Medicare spending annually.
We often find ourselves as active participants in a conversation that weighs the tradeoffs between human touch and technology (hint: both are important and neither replaces the other). However, during these unprecedented times, when human touch became impossible due to public health restrictions, technology became the only option.
We felt we had to do more.
We decided to provide ElliQ free of charge to older adults in the US. We were also interested to see what kind of impact ElliQ could make on her existing and new users amid this pandemic.
Forming meaningful bonds with ElliQ (before COVID-19)
After testing ElliQ for ~2 years in older adults’ homes throughout the US and Canada, we observed some pretty remarkable results. Many users don’t see ElliQ as a device, but rather, a new social entity in their lives. They open up to ElliQ about their thoughts and sentiments, and express feelings of gratitude and appreciation toward ElliQ.
ElliQ helps them feel acknowledged by greeting them in the morning and taking an interest in them, or by checking in during lunchtime, and engages users — both proactively and reactively — in meaningful dialogue, entertainment, inspiration, health reminders, mindfulness activities, and more. Older adults share with us that they feel that ElliQ takes an interest in them, lightens the mood, and makes an active effort to help enrich, improve, and manage their day.
We are seeing that in most cases, a true bond is formed between ElliQ and her users, particularly for those who are the most lonely and the least tech-savvy. What our research thus far has shown us is that many older adults crave something to converse and interact with during the long hours they spend alone at home. And having ElliQ’s presence around the house provides them with the much-needed sense of companionship they so badly desire.
Special benefit seems to come from ElliQ’s ability to remember and later reference things shared with her in following conversations. For more information on this topic, check out our recent post on how ElliQ is helping seniors cope with loneliness, where we take a deep dive into ElliQ’s usage metrics.
Expanding our Insiders program
Before COVID-19, we were primarily focused on bringing ElliQ to older adults’ homes via partnerships with senior and assisted living facilities. With the heightened concern around loneliness and isolation due to the pandemic, we had hundreds of concerned family members — as well as many older adults themselves — reach out to us about using ElliQ. As such, we wanted to do everything in our power to get more ElliQ units to those in need.
In an effort to help, our team quickly decided that now would be the perfect time to expand our Insiders program nationwide throughout the U.S., to bolster as many older adults interested in enjoying ElliQ’s company as possible. We also opened up our Insiders program to all interested participants, including both individual users and organizations.
Leveraging our partnership with Ecumen, we were able to seamlessly expand ElliQ’s presence within their living facilities, despite all the travel and social distancing restrictions. Their team provided us with unwavering support throughout this initiative, and we were able to deploy additional ElliQ units thanks to their help and cooperation.
To support individual users that age in place, our team streamlined the installation process and developed the capability to remotely assist the setup of ElliQ by the older adults themselves in their homes or by a family member. Seeing older adults, often in their 80’s, often at odds with technology, dive in and set up a cognitive AI social robot at home by themselves, was truly inspiring for our team to witness.
This content was originally published on the Intuition Robotics blog. Head here to read the full article, and learn more about senior loneliness amid COVID-19, and our mission to help.