Robot a glimpse of nursing home future
Zora might not look like much – more cute toy than futuristicmarvel – but this robot is at the center of an experiment in France to change care for elderly patients.
When Zora arrived at a nursing facility an hour outside 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 $18,000, offered companionship in a place where life can be lonely. Families can visit only so much, and staffmembers are stretched.
Patients at the hospital, called Jouarre, have dementia and other conditions that require roundthe-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 enamored. Robotics still has a long way to go before there’s a realistic chance of having a humanoid nurse.
Zora doesn’t dispense medicine, take blood pressure or change bedsheets. At Jouarre, Zora was viewed by some as a superfluous tool that just “keeps the patients busy,” according to a nurse, Sophie Riffault.
Another nurse, Nathalie Racine, said she wouldn’t let a robot feed patients even if it could. Humans shouldn’t delegate such intimate moments to machines. “Nothing will ever replace the human touch, the human warmth our patients need,” she said.
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, including in the United States, Asia and Middle East. It is part of a growing emphasis on robotics focused on care. A robot dog made by Sony has been marketed as a companion for older adults.
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. One nurse, Mickaël Feret, said some patients get jealous of others spending time with Zora. Patients have told the robot things about their health they wouldn’t share with doctors.
A woman who had bruises on her arms wouldn’t tell hospital staff what had happened, but shared with Zora that she’d fallen out of bed while sleeping.
“It puts some cheerfulness in our lives here,” says Marlène Simon, 70, who underwent a tracheotomy and 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.”