Could robots fill the gaps at Nebraska’s understaffed senior living facilities?

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – As senior living facilities struggle to find workers, one professor from Minnesota is pitching an idea that would send us into the future.

“Robots, I wish I had one,” said Jane Crouch, a resident at a Lincoln senior living facility. “I could use a robot.”

Eleven assisted living and nursing homes across Nebraska have closed their doors this year. Nursing homes say if they don’t find a solution quickly, things could continue to spiral.

On Monday, people in Lincoln got to meet the robot Pepper and learn more about whether it’s a good fit for their facilities.

“If we don’t start to advance in some of these technology platforms, certainly care for some areas of our residents, particularly in rural Nebraska, it will be impacted, there is just no other way around it,” said John Croghan, regional¬† director of operations at Immanuel.

Robots might not fix everything, but they could be a starting point for relieving some of the staff’s workload.

“This way, we are not only improving the quality of life of the residents, but also the quality of caregivers,” said Arshia Khan, a professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth who is the brain behind Pepper.

She said the robot could help ease older adults’ loneliness, which has been exacerbated by COVID-19.

Loneliness is something many aging adults have felt over the last two years.

Crouch said, “We spent several months in our rooms, eating by ourselves because COVID-19 changed our culture.”

Some Nebraskans say it’s worth a try.

“I think she is a real person in there,” Crouch said. “It’s like OK, why not?”

People may be concerned that these robots will take jobs away from humans.

But Khan said they do tasks that facilities are struggling to find humans to do.

So what does Pepper do?

She can tell residents jokes, give them the weather and keep them company.  Pepper can also lead dance and yoga classes.

The three goals are emotional and social well-being, cognition well-being and physical well-being.

Pushback also comes when people hear about the price, as one robot costs $10,000.

“We have to realize that they don’t require a salary; you are not paying them,” Khan said. “Secondly, they do not go out of commission that easily.”

Most aging adults have not always had technology in their lives, which could make some oppose the idea, but not all.

“We’ve got robots working for us now,” Crouch said. “I mean, they couldn’t build a car without robots. They could almost not build anything. We need robots and probably more of them.”

Robots don’t take time off, don’t get sick and don’t get agitated doing mundane or repetitive tasks.

Khan is currently working on a way to help those with dementia remember how to perform everyday tasks to maintain some independence.

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