Nurses welcome use of sensors and robots in care for the elderly
31 July 2009
Front-line staff in the nursing and care sector would welcome sensor
and robot technology in nursing homes and the homes of elderly people,
according to a survey by Norwegian research agency SINTEF for the
Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities.
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
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
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 in Norway 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
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 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 have been used successfully, but which were stopped by
“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.”
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