The impact of loneliness and isolation on New York’s aging population — an epidemic that was an undercurrent to the COVID-19 pandemic — is equivalent to smoking almost a pack of cigarettes daily, according to Greg Olsen, New York state’s Director of Aging.
But an innovative robot, ElliQ, the first-ever proactive and empathetic care companion that’s proven to drive down self-reported loneliness by 70%, could be a key to allowing seniors to live the best of their gray years.
Through a partnership between the state’s aging department and Israeli-based startup Intuition Robotics, the maker of ElliQ, a limited supply of ElliQ companions will be delivering voice-operated smart technology into the homes of more than 800 older adults throughout the state next week. Olsen told the Bronx Times that the state will be monitoring the progress of ElliQ-equipped seniors, hoping to eventually pave a way for future training and potential rollout in the state.
“This is a demonstration at this point … what we normally do when we see something as unique or innovative as ElliQ is we get in front of the people who would know what the right targets are on the local level,” said Olsen. “Older adults are not a ‘them.’ They are an ‘us’ with just however many years added … and the things that matter to you in your 20s will matter in your 80s like staying engaged, having friends, being active — all the things I think ElliQ does holistically.”
The development of ElliQ — which is designed to foster independence and provide support for older adults through daily check-ins, assistance with wellness goals and physical activities, connection to family and friends and more using voice commands and/or on-screen instructions — took six years. And for Intuition Robotics CEO and Co-Founder Dor Skuler the journey has been worth it, especially after an ElliQ-equipped senior’s family said that the robot improved their father’s mood in his last few months before passing away.
“One of the customers had passed away, unfortunately, and his family called us and wanted to thank us because the last few months of his life were filled with joy because of the conversations and interactions he had with ElliQ,” said Skuler. “It’s just amazing to see the daily impact that this product can have on the people using it.”
ElliQ is one of the examples of an emerging tech boom in elder care, and Olsen said despite misconceptions and generalizations, older adults have embraced the technological age, especially when tech can meet their needs.
“Older adults embrace new technology, especially when they see it is designed by older adults to meet their needs,” Olsen said. “For those who experience some form of isolation and wish to age in place, ElliQ is a powerful complement to traditional forms of social interaction and support from professional or family caregivers.”
According to Dor, ElliQ (priced between $249.99 and $29.99 per month) doesn’t just provide empathetic companionship, but can also intervene in an emergency, summoning help from a preprogrammed list of primary contacts, starting up a video call and sending text messages. ElliQ will have an average of 20 daily interactions with their older companion, according to Skuler.
With onboard AI, ElliQ can pick up patterns, learn daily routines and remember what you tell her, which adds a level of empathy and personalization to the whole experience.
Under the newly-enacted fiscal year 2023 state budget, the state’s aging department has $2.9 million in funding for pioneering initiatives aimed at combating social isolation and offering new or expanded innovations in services for aging New Yorkers at multiple levels.
In addition to ElliQ, the state’s other already funded initiatives include an animatronic pet initiative; statewide access to Trualta’s family caregiver support platform offering expert-led training across critical care competencies; ride-sharing services designed exclusively for older adults; and online communities that provide facilitator-led classes and services.
In 2017, the U.S. surgeon general declared social isolation to be a “global epidemic” — one that has only worsened due to the pandemic. According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, social isolation drives $6.7 billion in additional associated Medicare spending per year.
Reach Robbie Sequeira at email@example.com or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes