Hi, my name is Keren. I am the gerontologist at Intuition Robotics, where we are building an AI-driven social companion for older adults named Ellie Q.
What is a gerontologist and what do we do, you might ask. Gerontology is the scientific study of the biological, psychological and sociological phenomena that are associated with old age and aging, as well as the problems of the aged. A gerontology degree wasn’t always as accessible as it is today, but in recent years that has changed and the subject has gained popularity due to the increased longevity of the human race.
So, what does a gerontologist even do at a startup’?
After I joined the company (as employee #1!), I read academic articles and research papers about social robots, specifically, the use of robots designed to assist older adults. We then partnered with ‘Beth Protea’, which is a boutique retirement home in Herzliya. They have a project called ‘Protea Home Care’ in which older adults who prefer to stay at home can enroll in a modular program where each client chooses which services best suit his needs and requirements. I interviewed Beth Protea’s clients about their daily habits and technology use. I also questioned them to find out what’s missing from current technologies that prevents them from using them.
The second round of interviews was done with the grown children of the older adults, mainly those who act as their parent’s primary caregivers. The goal was to better understand their needs and wishes. We also have hosted discussion groups with multidisciplinary teams of professionals who work with older adults to gain even more insights.
One of the main points of the caregivers’ interviews was to understand how the digital divide impacts the whole family. The younger generations have their own way of communicating, the most popular being social media and texting, but the parents or grandparents of that generation are far less tech savvy. Sadly, that reduces interaction with the grandparents, and unfortunately, makes them feel even further from their family and more lonely.