The New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA) announced on Wednesday that it will deliver voice-operated smart technology into the homes of over 800 older adults throughout the state, a move that is being made in order to combat the unique feelings of loneliness and isolation that the cohort could be prone to in later life.
The tech in question comes from a company called Intuition Robotics, deploying a product called ElliQ, which offers the ability for conversation engagement, wellness checks and additional activities that could assist in preventing severe loneliness among older populations.
While other technologies are reactive to commands, ElliQ proactively suggests activities and initiates conversations, building context through artificial intelligence (AI) to inform follow-up conversations that create a sense of relationship with the AI,” NYSOFA describes. “To support health and wellness, ElliQ offers sleep relaxation exercises, physical activity exercises, in-depth nutrition-related conversations, and medication reminders for each user’s unique condition(s).”
Vivek Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon General serving currently under President Biden and formerly under President Obama, declared social isolation an “epidemic” in a 2017 piece in the Harvard Business Review. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have only exacerbated these issues, NYSOFA says.
“According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, social isolation drives $6.7 billion in additional associated Medicare spending per year,” the announcement reads. “The health consequences of loneliness and isolation are equivalent to smoking almost a pack of cigarettes daily. At a time when older adults are at increased risk for loneliness and social isolation, ElliQ offers another form of companionship, supplementing traditional, in-person support.”
Smart home technology has been seen as a potential solution for senior-specific loneliness for some time. In 2020, Amazon announced it was working on the integration into its popular “Alexa” smart assistant of features that would encourage aging in place.
However, seniors remain cautious about such technologies. According to a late 2021 piece in the Washington Post, seniors have been vocal about their concerns related to an ability to live independently with technology that has surveillance capabilities over their movements and actions.
“Smart home technology has long been used by caretakers to monitor older adults,” the piece explained. “Cameras you can watch from anywhere are among the most common, but there are also sensors for detecting movement, remote monitoring for climate controls and power outlets as well as voice-activated screens and speakers. With the right setup, someone can see if a relative has fallen or let them know they left the stove on.”