Robot helps elderly people get social

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Robot helps elderly people get social

The telepresence robot, dubbed Wheel-I-Am, is designed to help elderly and infirm people take part in social outings such as galleries and museums visits.

It is constructed from a 10-inch tablet with an enhanced camera lens mounted atop a miniature Segway scooter, which is connected via wireless internet to the nursing home.

A nurse at the Wommin Bay Aged Care Village at Kingscliff guides the robot via remote control, while a group of residents watch a live feed of vision on a big screen.

Another nurse accompanies the robot, to ensure it is safe and does not endanger anyone else.

One of the residents Christina McMichael, 90, says she looks forward to outings like their visit to the Tweed Regional Museum.

“It’s very unfortunate for people who can’t manage to get to these places,” she said.

“[With the robot] they’ll be able to see it; they’ll be quite interested in it.”

Another resident Ian Harbison, 87, is fascinated by Wheel-I-Am.

“I’ve never seen one,” he said.

“It’s fantastic but it’s beyond me.”

Stepping out with a robot

The robot recently joined the residents touring the museum, even taking the lift to explore the second floor.

Tweed Regional Museum support officer Kirsty Andrew says the residents loved the outing.

“They were so excited about the museum visit they said that they were all going to get dressed up for the occasion,” she said.

“They were really looking forward to it.”

Kirsty says it was interesting incorporating the robot into the real life tour.

“You had to keep it in mind,” she said.

“As well as talking to the visitors here you had to talk to the residents back in the house.”

Robots enhance social inclusion

Feros Care, the company that runs the nursing home, says they are always looking for new ways to help their residents socialise and feel included.

Wheel-I-am cost $3,000 and was originally bought a year ago to help nurses and doctors visit patients’ homes in the village.

Feros spokeswoman Lisa Murray says the robot now gives those who are not able-bodied or may be in poor health the ability to participate.

“It’s a very simple technology,” she said.

“They are completely in charge of the tour that they are taking.”

She said being able to participate in everything is vital to healthy ageing.

“At the end of the day they can all sit around the dinner table together and they can talk about the outing, whether they were physically there or not,” she said.