Senior Care Robots are Revolutionizing Health Care in Northern Virginia

Imagine this: An 80-year-old woman named Joan lives alone at home. In the past, she has forgotten to take her medicine and she often gets lonely. Rudy, who is about the size of a typical ten-year-old, comes in and reminds her to take her pills. He even brings her the pills and a glass of water. When Joan needs companionship, Rudy provides social interaction and games to engage her. Joan’s life is much easier now because of Rudy. Rudy is a robot that was developed on the George Mason University Campus.

Robots, such as Rudy, are among us. And for seniors living alone in the DC Metro area, later this year, they very well may be helping with health care at home, in assisted living facilities, and in some skilled nursing facilities. Rudy, an assistive robot developed by Fairfax-based INF Robotics Inc., is designed to assist seniors, war veterans, and individuals with disabilities maintain their independence by acting as a health care companion and cutting down on return hospital visits, according to company founder and CEO Anthony Nunez.

Rudy offers telemedicine capabilities for doctors and caregivers to check in remotely, and will sell to both individuals and health care agencies for patient use. INF Robotics also partnered with AlertOne Services, so the Rudy assistive robot can call for help during emergencies. INF Robotics plans to sell the Rudy assistive robot for $5,000 per unit. However, the company is also seeking reimbursement through Medicare and Medicaid. It says this will make Rudy available at “little to no cost to the user.”

“We’ve designed this robot to be friendly, very easy to use, because we know seniors haven’t grown up using computers,” said Nunez, a George Mason University alum who also owns Fairfax-based Infamous Robotics LLC, which educates kids about STEM subjects.

The Status of the Rudy Robot

INF Robotics, which has been developing the now-patented product since the startup was founded in 2011, plans to start selling its first units later this year. It’s currently in its beta two testing phase, piloting Rudy at home health care agencies like SenCura in Chantilly and assisted living communities, such as Vinson Hall in McLean.

Rudy has also been tested with the Department of Veteran Affairs and about six different home care agencies, with more coming up until the end of the testing phase next month. I was recently invited to a luncheon for senior serving professionals, where Rudy is being featured.

The robots hit the market later this year in Greater Washington, with plans to expand to other parts of the Mid-Atlantic.

Why Assistive Robots, such as Rudy, Have Become Vital

The US is reaching an epidemic proportion of older adults who will need healthcare later in their lives. By 2030, that population will grow from 35 million to 72 million – close to a 20 percent increase in the US population. Adults 85-plus are now 12x as likely to reside in skilled nursing facilities, while even higher numbers of older adults are living in assisted living communities.
An impending nursing and geriatrician shortage is also predicted. In fact, in 2014, there were only 7,000 certified U.S. geriatricians; that’s one for every 2,600 patients age 75-plus, and studies estimate that by 2030, 30,000 geriatricians will be needed.

Because of these shortages, high mortality rates and re-admission likely will occur unless we get help. So, if there was ever a time for assistive robots to step in, now is the time.
In a healthcare setting or at home, assistive robots could be of great service by assisting with three basic needs: surveillance, privacy, and companionship. But how users accept and adapt to assistive robots in the US remains a question. While studies have been limited, they show the attitude of older adults is generally positive towards assistive robots. This, however, may depend on their environment and health status.

Assistive Robots Still Face a Number of Challenges

Japan has the oldest population in the world, and has been using assistive robot technology for years. From soft cuddly robotic seals named Paro, to Robear the giant lifting bear, to Pepper the humanoid robot, Japan is incorporating an assistive robotic culture to solve their healthcare needs.

Based on Japan’s experience, there have been concerns connected with adopting assistive robot technology in other countries and cultures, as follows:

1. Some experts argue that using robots as healthcare assistants creates an artificial relationship between the patient and the caregiver. Mark Meadows of Botanic believes that “we have already outsourced caregiving, saying that the sentimentality behind this thinking is something that is long gone.”
2. In many cases, cost is a factor. Many assistive robots are expensive, which makes healthcare even more expensive. Rudy is not particularly expensive, and may be covered by Medicare/Medicaid, as explained earlier.
3. How each end user will accept and adapt to this technology remains a question.
4. Robots cannot replace health care professionals. Assistive robots should complement a healthcare professional’s job, not take over. According to Carol Huston, nursing professor at California State University, “professional time is often spent on non-professional activities. This is where robotic caregivers work best – as an extender of care for nurses.”

Will Your Loved One Be Resistant to Robots and Other New Technology?

As our country ages, the needs of older adults interested in remaining independent and at home multiply. However, what happens if your loved one is resistant to adopting new technologies? Read our blog post, “Amazing Technology to Age-in-Place (But Mom is Reluctant)” for details on helping a loved one overcome resistance, and for additional assistive technologies that are available.

Aging-in-Place? When Technology is Not Enough

Most people want to stay in their home for as long as possible. However, if you or a loved one cannot live independently (even with the help of technology such as robots) and he or she is showing signs that living alone is a strain, it may be time to consider other alternatives.

Whether the outcome is in-home care, assisted living, or nursing home care in the future, it is always wise to work with an experienced Elder Law Attorney such as myself. Life Care Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection is the process of protecting assets from having to be spent down in connection with entry into assisted living or nursing home care, while also helping ensure that you and your loved ones get the best possible care and maintain the highest possible quality of life, whether at home, in an assisted living facility, or in a nursing home. Please contact us as soon as possible to make an appointment for a consultation:

Fairfax Elder Law Attorney: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law Attorney: 540-479-143
Rockville Elder Law Attorney: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Law Attorney: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.