[Pollack, 2005] says "today, approximately 10 percent of the world's population is over 60; by 2050 this proportion will have more than doubled" and "the greatest rate of increase is amongst the oldest old, people aged 85 and older." She follows by adding that this group is therefore subject to both physical and cognitive impairments more than younger people. These facts have a profound impact on how the world will keep the elderly independent as long as possible from caregivers. Assistive technology for the mobility impaired includes the wheelchair, lift aids and other devices, all of which have been around for centuries. However, the patient typically or eventually requires assistance to use the device; whether to push the wheelchair, to lift themselves from the bed to a chair or to the toilet or for guiding the patient through cluttered areas. With fewer caregivers and more elderly in the near future, there is a need for improving these devices to provide them independent assistance. "Already today there are over 400,000 unfilled nursing positions causing healthcare providers across the country to close wings or risk negative outcomes. Over the coming years, the declining ratio of working age adults to elderly will further exacerbate the shortage. In 1950 there were 8 adults available to support each elder 65+, today the ratio is 5:1 and by 2020 the ratio will drop to 3 working age adults per elder person." [Wasatch Digital IQ, 2003] A rapidly aging population, soaring healthcare costs and a projected shortage of healthcare professionals are crucial problems faced by today's society. Traditional labor-intensive services will no longer be affordable, yet demands for quality care continue to increase. The application of robots and robotic technology has the potential for overcoming these difficulties. [Richard Mahoney, 2004]
High back injury rates among available nurses and caregivers adds to the limited patient care issue and may be relieved by better tools as pointed out by these points:
To develop test methods and performance metrics, acquire and study sensor data, and suggest standards and specifications necessary for intelligent, assistive devices for the elderly, wheelchair dependents, and the blind.
The project will develop core competencies in, and attempt to collaborate with, robotic wheelchair standards organizations to further this research.
Healthcare Devices Concepts
Healthcare Mobility Project Manager
National Institute of Standards and Technology
Intelligent Systems Division
100 Bureau Drive, MS 8230
Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8230
email: roger.bostelman [at] nist.gov