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Indian healthcare looks at Socially Assistive Robots as viable option for mental health assistance

Nandita Vijay, Bengaluru
Thursday, January 5, 2023, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

Indian healthcare looks at Socially Assistive Robots as viable option for mental health assistance. There are several start-ups engaged in the development of robots to interface with humans. Surgical robots are seen to be the biggest boon on the medical front.
According to Jayakrishnan T, Member, EEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), providing effective mental health assistance with Socially Assistive Robots is gaining attention. Technology-assisted medical interventions have become increasingly common in the healthcare field. These technology interventions are delivered via mobile apps, wearables, and trackers to create a more personalized experience. Efforts are being made to provide the best technology-assisted, interactive for mental health and psychological well-being.
One such technology intervention is a Socially Assistive Robot (SAR) designed with audio, visual, and movement capabilities to assist individuals with social interactions while also helping them manage their physical and psychological well-being, he added.
SARs have many useful applications in mental healthcare. They are used as caregivers alongside doctors, nurses, and physical therapists, as therapy aids for children dealing with grief and loss and as social mediators for children with autism. They are further employed as companions in nursing homes and elementary schools, he said.
One of the most employed functions of SARs in mental healthcare is focused on companionship. Introducing a socially assistive robot into a long-term care facility for elderly patients with dementia-related cognitive impairment or at high risk for depression can help improve mood and decrease self-reported feelings of depression and reduce physiological stress levels as a result of meaningful engagement and interactions. 
It can also be deployed as a therapeutic partner for patients with cognitive impairment. Here the application of SARs in mental healthcare focuses on robot playmates that help children with autism spectrum disorders practice or build clinically relevant skills. In this, SARs are used in collaboration with therapists, research assistants, etc., to increase engagement and add opportunities for social interaction and skill building. Furthermore, these robots can assist patients in monitoring their compliance with other aspects of treatment like medication adherence through a structured and positive coaching style. 

The field of SARs is currently witnessing innovation in which new developments are constantly expanding the limits of what robots can do and how they can be used to serve human interests. Therefore, it is certain that robots will be expanded in mental healthcare in the coming future and help address mental health concerns at large, Jayakrishnan told Pharmabiz.
Likewise, SARs are being used to provide social services. For instance, NAO, a fully programmable humanoid robot having multiple sensors for touch, sound, speech, and visual recognition. In its myriad of uses, it has been used in research as a companion to children with developmental disabilities. Similarly Paro is a robotic harp seal equipped with five kinds of sensors: tactile, light, audio, temperature, and posture. It is used for companionship and stress reduction. Also Buddy is a robot which provides social interaction and long-term care for the elderly.
Chhaya too is a non-mobile humanoid robot torso with silicon prosthetics with primary capabilities and functionalities of a companion and caregiver, specifically for patients with dementia. Chhaya can assist patients by answering their queries, and guiding to perform their day-to-day activities and engage in human interactions through arm movements. With the help of Machine Learning and AI, behaviour, voice structure, emotion synthesis, can be personalized over a period of time, said Jayakrishnan.


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