She might not be the answer to New York State’s caregiver crisis, but ElliQ could help fill the companion void for hundreds of lonely seniors aging in place.
On Wednesday, New York State Office for the Aging announced a unique partnership with Intuition Robotics to provide 800 seniors with artificial intelligence-powered robotic companions called ElliQ. The tabletop device communicates with seniors much like Amazon’s Alexa communicates with users. But ElliQ is more like a real person who empathizes with the seniors and responds to voice as well as body movement.
Intuition Robotics co-founder and CEO Dor Skuler told McKnight’s Home Care Daily Pulse seniors helped the company develop ElliQ. In a pilot program, they interacted with the device approximately 20 times a day; about a third of those interactions dealt with health and wellness issues.
“People share with ElliQ what they are going through in life, where they are going and when they are coming back,” Skuler said. “They really interact with ElliQ as if she is a roommate or companion, as opposed to a digital device.”
The device also has episodic memory and can be programmed to contact a physician or a family member at the request of the senior.
“You might share with her that you don’t feel well and it’s the second day in a row,” Skuler explained. “She’ll ask if you feel better or worse. If you feel worse, she might say you should talk to your doctor and maybe let your daughter know as well.”
ElliQ is the latest weapon the New York State Office for the Aging is deploying in an effort to combat social isolation and loneliness among its seniors. In 2018, the agency began sending 4,000 robotic pets into the homes of older New Yorkers. That initiative proved to be so successful the agency recently bought about another 17,000 animatronic animals to help keep lonely and isolated seniors company.
New York State currently has one of the worst caregiver shortages in the nation. Late last year, the Home Care Association of New York reported there were more than 20,000 unfilled openings for caregivers. The state’s new fiscal budget includes $1.2 billion in bonuses and pay bumps to attract more workers to the home care industry.
New York State Office for the Aging Director Greg Olsen admitted to McKnight’s Home Care Daily Pulse that ElliQ isn’t really intended to solve the caregiver crisis. However, the $700,000 the state is earmarking for ElliQ could be an effective way of keeping a handful of the state’s 4.6 million older adults independent and safe in their homes.
“What we would like to see is continued growth in our state budget to be able to continue offering these,” Olsen said. “Right now we have initial funding and then anything in the future hopefully with really good outcomes and metrics will allow us to grow the program in the context of the budget negotiations.”
Next week, the New York State Office for Aging will begin introducing ElliQ to county aging offices around the state. Those offices will then identify seniors who could benefit from the devices and distribute them in the coming weeks. Olsen said the seniors who receive them will be able to keep the robotic companions for as long as they want them.
“We are expecting with the population that we serve that there will be about a 20% turnover annually,” Olsen said. What we are not looking to do is provide something and then take it away.”