Meet Zora, the robot caregiver
The tech-driven companion is proving to be a good listener and friend to senior patients
Zora may not look like much — more cute toy than futuristic marvel — but this robot is at the centre of an experiment in France to change care for senior citizens.
When Zora arrived at a nursing facility an hour outside of Paris, a strange thing began happening: many patients developed an emotional attachment, treating it like a baby, holding and cooing, giving it kisses on the head.
Zora, which can cost up to $24,000, offered companionship in a place where life can be lonely. Families can visit only so much, and staff members are stretched.
Patients at the hospital, called Jouarre, have dementia and other conditions that require round-the-clock care.
The nurse at Jouarre who oversees Zora controls the robot from a laptop. He often stands out of view so patients don’t know it’s him at the controls.
The robot can have a conversation because the nurse types words into a laptop for the robot to speak. Some patients refer to Zora as “she,” others “he.”
Zora often leads exercises and plays games.
Not everyone is enamoured. Robotics still has a long way to go before there’s a realistic chance of having a humanoid nurse.
The experience at Jouarre provides a window into a future when we will rely more on robots to help care for loved ones as they age.
Zora Bots, the Belgiumbased provider of the robot at Jouarre, says it has sold over 1,000 of the robots to health care facilities around the world. It is part of a growing emphasis on robotics focused on care.
Giving robots more responsibility to care for people in the twilight of their lives may seem like a dystopian prospect, but many see it as an inevitability.
In nearly every country, the population of older adults is rising. The number of people over 60 will more than double to 2.1 billion by 2050, according to the United Nations. The figures point to an emerging gap. There simply won’t be enough people for the required health care jobs.
In Australia, a hospital using a Zora robot studied the effects on patients and staff. The researchers found that it improved the mood of some patients, and got them more involved in activities, but required significant technical support.
The experience of the French hospital staff has been similar. Staff members have been continually surprised by how attached patients have become. Patients have told the robot things about their health they wouldn’t share with doctors.
“It puts some cheerfulness in our lives here,” says Marlène Simon, 70, who has been in the hospital for more than a year. “We love her, and I miss her when I don’t see her. I actually think about her quite often.”
This robot is at the centre of an experiment in France to change care for patients at a time when the population of older adults is rising.
Zora the robot can talk because the nurse types words into a laptop.