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Are robots the solution to understaffed nursing homes?

Pepper, programmed by Arshia Khan.
Pepper, programmed by Arshia Khan.

More than 200,000 residents or workers at long-term care facilities have died of COVID-19.

For many, the pandemic has exposed cracks in our long-term care systems — from staffing shortages to chronic loneliness among residents.

What if a robot could fix both?

A program at the University of Minnesota-Duluth is using automation technology to find out.

The New York Times reported on these robots, which are programmed by computer science professor Arshia Khan:

In her basement lab, Dr. Khan asked a Pepper robot to launch its program for reminiscence therapy.

“Hi, I’m Pepper,” the robot said. “I hope you are having a wonderful day. Would you like to relive some of your memories from the past?”


From a selection of topics, Dr. Khan chose “Wedding.”

“Great,” the robot said. “Remember the day you got married? It’s been 52 yrs. That’s a really long time. So much must’ve happened since then. Do you remember, it was the summer of 1970 and the weather was great. The ceremony was beautiful, and the food, it was amazing.”

The notion of using robots in nursing homes also raises ethical issues — about data and privacy and the importance of human-to-human contact.

We talk with Dr. Khan and others about the intersection of technology and geriatric care.

Copyright 2022 WAMU 88.5

Kathryn Fink