Want to age-in-place? You may have a robot keeping you company.

A 95-year-old woman and her 74-year-old daughter, each of whom lives alone and could be at risk for isolation and loneliness, recently received a lifeline to conversation and companionship in the form of an artificial intelligence robot.

The women can now receive medical reminders, health and wellness check-ins, play music and games, and experience virtual travel.

“It’s helping with loneliness and socialization for people who would otherwise be trapped in their home watching TV all day,” Christopher Lewoc, case manager for Greene County Human Services in New York said. “It’s a way to keep people sane and active mentally and physically. It’s letting people live a more social life.”

Lewoc sets up free artificial intelligence care companions for older adults, giving them a lifeline to conversation and health reminders.

He recently installed ElliQ, a voice-activated proactive and empathetic care companion, in the homes of the elderly mother and her daughter, giving them some companionship as they each live alone. He’s found that a little conversation may go a long way to help mitigate isolation and improve care for older adults.

Under a contract with the New York state Office for the Aging, Intuition Robotics is providing the ElliQ smart technology for about 800 older adults in an effort to fight social isolation and support aging-in-place. The ElliQ recipients need internet access for the free device to be set up in their home by a caseworker. The state works with local offices for the aging and partners to identify older adults who would benefit most from the technology

“ElliQ will greet them in the morning and ask them how they feel. If they slept poorly, ElliQ will say ‘would you like me to call your doctor?’ It’s interactive and helpful,” Lewoc said.

“It allows them to have a companion, engage in conversation and get reminders about drinking their water or whatever medications they need,” said Lewoc. “A lot of folks don’t have smartphones and ElliQ can show them photos, take them on trips to different countries and teach them about the culture. It can play trivia with you, call your family, play music to have a dance party.”

ElliQ responds to questions but also initiates conversation and questions, offers sleep relaxation exercises, physical activity exercises, nutrition-related chats and medication reminders for each user’s unique condition.

“This product does so many things to improve health, combat isolation, and improve overall well-being and independence. Designed with input from older adults, the future of supporting and serving older adults includes technology. The future is here,” said Greg Olsen, director of the New York state Office for the Aging.

“Despite misconceptions and generalizations, older adults embrace new technology, especially when they see it is designed by older adults to meet their needs,” Olsen said, adding that ElliQ served as a “powerful complement to traditional forms of social interaction and support from professionals or family caregivers.”

The New York program and rising interest in AI companions comes as more older people want to age in place and finding home healthcare amid a persistent shortage of healthcare workers becomes increasingly difficult.

In 2017, the US Surgeon General declared social isolation to be a “global epidemic” – one that only worsened in the COVID-19 health emergency. According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, social isolation drives $6.7 billion in additional Medicare spending per year.

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Amid a report by the McKinsey Health Institute on healthy aging that found that nonclinical factors affect 80% of an individual’s health, Intuition Robotics sees great potential for ElliQ helping older adults age in place in a healthier way.

Users have an average of 20 daily interactions with ElliQ, according to Dor Skuler, CEO and co-founder of Intuition Robotics, a startup company based in Israel. ElliQ users report an 80% decrease in loneliness and 82% of users access the mental health features, Skuler said.

The new second-generation ElliQ offers users experiences such as museum exhibit tours and virtual travel. The new companion app provides users’ families and caregivers with different methods to communicate with the users and updates them on the user’s well-being.

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Skuler called ElliQ a “lighthearted character that moves into the person’s home.” While Intuition Robotics has not marketed directly to consumers, it was named a Time Best Invention of the Year and word-of-mouth during the holidays has been good for business.

Outside of the New York state program, ElliQ can be had for a $249.99 enrollment fee, plus a monthly subscription of $29.99 if you buy a year subscription or $39.99 if you enroll month-to-month.

Intuition Robotics is talking with other states and senior living facilities about offering ElliQ in more places, as well as working to measure how the conversational robot improves health outcomes to reduce the cost of care, Skuler said.

Of course, it’s a robot and not a human, so the interaction is limited.

“There’s a place for technology, but it’s no substitute for human interaction. We know the power of human touch and human interaction,” said Lakelyn Hogan Eichenberger, a gerontologist and caregiver advocate for Home Instead Senior Care, a home care service agency. “Industrywide, the workforce is not at the level it needs to be at, so there’s a need for technology, but there has to be a balance.”

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