Voicebots help elderly in independent living and health care

December 8, 2022

Press release from VTT

Voice-activated conversational artificial intelligence, or voicebots can help the elderly live independently at home. VTT examined the possibilities offered by voicebots, their acceptability, and their feasibility in providing services for the elderly. The study was sparked by the need to develop new digital means to improve the ability of the elderly to function and to live independently at home and to improve availability of services and access to them.

According to the study, voicebots are well suited especially for primary contacts with customer service, because they make it easier and faster to access the services. In addition, voice bots can help in gathering information related to elderly’s wellbeing and functioning, for example. This can speed up health care personnel’s response to the customer’s service needs, making the allocation of resources easier while improving patient safety as a consequence.

“It is essential to identify those customers that will benefit from speech-operated solutions. For example, cognitive challenges, especially an advanced memory disorder, can prevent using voicebot. In such situations everyday dealings will require a real human contact. On the other hand, a voicebot can help elderly with memory disorders to meet their everyday needs, by reminding them to take their medicines, and by raising upcoming events, and mealtimes”, says VTT Senior Research Scientist Jouni Kaartinen.

Voicebots can ease the use of services and performing routine tasks in healthcare
Voicebots can enable an elderly person to access those digital services which use is difficult for them due to physical or cognitive challenges.

For example, it is easier to use mobile services with speech than pressing number buttons on the screen. Voicebots can also help in searching the data or in using the smartphone applications if users have challenges in motor skills or in skills to use the device. Using services with the voicebots can also lower old peoples’ threshold to use other digital services.

In addition, voicebots can support health care professionals to perform routine tasks which often requires lot of resources. Voice-based solutions can speed up, for example, making appointments, reporting laboratory results, or customer surveys for large groups. In this manner, professionals’ resources would be freed up for those tasks where there is need for human service.

Knowledge of the services affects elderlies’ attitudes
At first, the elderly had some reservations towards voicebot services, but after having more information about the possibilities the services could have their attitudes turned in a more positive direction. Voicebots were seen to be useful especially in dealing with routine tasks and in providing reminders and seeking information.

The elderly felt that voicebots could enhance their safety. This requires that the service is always easily accessible, provides fast contact with relatives, home care, or other service providers. It is important that the voicebot can be used with a device that the elderly always carries with them.

Involving both elderly persons and stakeholders in the development of services
The development of digital services requires careful planning. While developing new voicebot services, the extensive involvement of both the elderly themselves as well as different stakeholders is important. This principle also guided the implementation of VTT’s study.

A wide selection of experts in conversational artificial intelligence were interviewed for the study. There was also collaboration with social and health care professionals, experts from the VALLI Gerontechnology Centre, and a digital panel comprising people over the age of 65. Social and health care professionals considered the possibilities offered by voicebots from the perspective of both the elderly and professionals. The digital panel participated in a workshop to map the benefits and use cases of voicebots and took part in the trial and evaluation of the voicebot concept.

The study was funded by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.

Jouni Kaartinen
Minna Kulju
Research Scientist

Originally published on 7 December.

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