Robots help Metro Vancouver long-term care residents connect with loved ones


After many months of an isolating pandemic, some long-term care residents in Metro Vancouver are reconnecting with loved ones with help from robots.

The devices, called “telepresence” robots, prop up iPads so residents can chat with friends and family virtually, without having to hold or operate the iPads themselves.

The idea, said UBC CHÉOS Research Associate Dr. Lillian Hung, is to provide a seamless communication experience for older adults — particularly those who have struggled with mobility, memory or technology during COVID-19.

Read more:
B.C. to hopefully start offering COVID vaccines for children in early November

“During the pandemic, we hear families that they get 10 minutes a week,” explained Hung, who launched the three-year project.

“With technology they could connect and they don’t even get that 10 minutes — sometimes they were able to log on, but the iPad wasn’t facing the residents.”

Story continues below advertisement

Using the robots, family members can book a time slot, and using an app, drive the robot to the bedside of their loved one, or to their lunch table, and visit in real time.

When they’re done, the robot goes back to its charging station and the resident doesn’t have to do anything.

Click to play video: 'B.C. restaurants seek robotic help during labour shortage'

B.C. restaurants seek robotic help during labour shortage

B.C. restaurants seek robotic help during labour shortage – Sep 26, 2021

Right now, there are 10 prototype telepresence robots in four care homes in the Vancouver Coastal Health region. Hung and Jim Mann, study co-lead and patient partner, will observe their impact on social isolation over a three-year period.

Mann, an advocate for people with living with dementia, said the robots give older adults more independence and relieve some pressure on long-term care staff to help facilitate virtual visits while trying to juggle other task work.

Mann, 73, was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s himself and has collaborated on several projects with Hung in the past.

Story continues below advertisement

Read more:
Survey results that found LTC homes don’t provide safe care will shape new standards

“I think the adaptability of this technology just allows for so many things to do, so many ways to be connected, whether it be a physician needing to talk to a patient,” he told Global News.

“The portability of this allows for better insight into what’s happening.”

Response in long-term care homes has been overwhelmingly positive so far, said Hung and Mann.

Click to play video: 'Bracing for more staff shortages at long-term care homes in wake of new vaccine mandate'

Bracing for more staff shortages at long-term care homes in wake of new vaccine mandate

Bracing for more staff shortages at long-term care homes in wake of new vaccine mandate

Read more:
Some B.C. long-term care staff disappointed they’re not eligible for third COVID-19 shot

A UBC biomedical engineering student, Charlie Lake, is also helping with robot tech support.

Story continues below advertisement

Some of the obstacles to widespread use they’ve identified early include the cost of the devices — about twice that of a high-end iPad — along with infection control and privacy concerns.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.