From: Reuters
Published February 7, 2008 09:56 AM

Short of staff, Norway eyes robot care for elderly

By Aasa Christine Stoltz

OSLO (Reuters) - Household robots may help human carers look after the growing number of elderly Norwegians in years to come, enabling them to live longer and more comfortably in their own homes, a project leader told Reuters on Thursday.

Norway faces a growing shortage of health care staff over the next 5-10 years, and 2020 will be a crunch point when large numbers of post-World War 2 "baby boomers" leave the workforce.

Two employee groups have teamed up to see how robots and other hi-tech gadgets can be developed to help care for them.

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"Technology will contribute to resolve part of the challenge with employees in the health care sector," Olav Ulleren, head of a group representing Norwegian municipalities, told Reuters. "It could also help people live longer in their own homes."

Ulleren said robots and other devices could do housework like washing clothes and dishes and cleaning the floor.

Equipment to help people look after their health, for example by giving daily tests or medical surveillance, and take care of personal hygiene, could also play a role, he said.

Wheelchair users could also benefit, the groups said.

Ulleren said the aim of the new technology was not to replace human care and tenderness, but to provide extra help in situations where more health care workers are not available.

"Everyone wants to take care of themselves as long as possible, and it is not the intention to rob anybody of the responsibility of caring for the elderly, this will just add another dimension," Ulleren said. Using technology for household chores would make human health care more personal, he said.

It is, however, far too early to say when the first robots will start caring for elderly Norwegians, the two groups said.

Despite hefty inflows of migrant workers, Norway's 4.6 million population is facing a shortage of skilled workers because of an economic boom fuelled by the high price of its oil and gas exports.

(Editing by Tim Pearce)

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