How AI and robots are caring for the elderly in Taiwan’s ageing society

By Ming En Liew

Dr Jenny Su Huey-Jen, President of National Cheng Kung University, reveals the tech that will go into Taiwan’s first geriatric hospital.

The idea that cities today will have a disproportionate number of elderly would have been laughable a mere century ago. As recently as 1950, global mortality rates for children were five times higher than they are now, according to Our World in Data.

Yet, advancements in healthcare and sanitation standards are helping adults live longer than ever before. Taiwan, in particular, is estimated to become a super-aged society by 2025, with one in five being over 65 years old, said Dr Jenny Su Huey-Jen, President of the National Cheng Kung University (NCKU).

To better support the seniors in its population, Taiwan is building a new geriatric hospital. Su shares how this hospital will better provide healthcare services to an ageing population.

AI as a healthcare companion for remote care

The NCKU Geriatric Hospital will not just be restricted to one building. Instead, it hopes to become “a hospital without walls”, says Su. Tech such as AI, robotics, and wearable devices will connect doctors and patients, and engage elderly patients remotely.

For instance, AI helps doctors better communicate with their elderly patients. Most of the elderly in Taiwan speak only Hokkien, Su points out.

Taiwan developed an AI programme that automatically translates Mandarin to Hokkien, and vice versa, to assist doctor-patient communication, she highlights. In time, they are looking to extend this programme to cater for other languages commonly spoken in Taiwan, like Hakka and Bahasa Indonesia.

Taiwan is also creating an AI robot which can interact with and accompany elderly when they are outside the hospital. This robot analyses the elderly’s medical records, reminds them to take their medication, and measures their blood sugar levels, shares Su.

The robot also helps doctors give more timely diagnosis and monitor patients. It is able to combine the physiological data of patients and upload it to the cloud, where doctors can view it remotely. This allows them to detect any abnormalities and immediately give a diagnosis, Su explains.

Additionally, Taiwan combines AI with gamification in an intelligent fitness programme that will improve rehabilitation services to elderly at home.

Professionals will use AI to assess the physical fitness of elderly, especially in remote areas. Meanwhile, “vivid interactive games” will encourage elderly citizens to participate in activities such as stroke home training systems or using intelligent exercise bikes, shares Su.

These devices will also collect the physiological and exercise information of the elderly and automatically upload them to remote care systems for physicians to follow up on.

Combining AI with data for better patient care

The geriatric hospital will have an electronic dashboard that helps physicians work more efficiently, by providing them with an overview of patient information. AI will then work with the information to predict diseases, Su says.

The dashboard will include thousands of data points including medical records, lab results, diagnoses information, and genetic information, Su explains. AI will extract information like risk factors and biomarkers that influence disease and use it to predict how the disease may progress over time.

Medical teams can then use this information to gain a comprehensive overview of a patient’s health. With that, they would be able to detect early on if patients are at a higher risk of deteriorating, and can then provide them with individualised treatment recommendations, says Su.

“This allows the medical team to focus on patient care, reduce the time spent searching for information, and enhance work efficiency,” she adds.

A dedicated hospital for elderly citizens

“We believe that the advent of a super-aged society should not be a crisis for Taiwan's health care system and society, but rather a potential driver for social innovation,” Su shares.

The elderly population has complex care needs, she admits. Healthcare providers need to consider healthy and frail elderly, multiple diseases, physical and mental disabilities, as well as terminal illnesses.

But Taiwan today does not have a hospital that is able to provide the multi-disciplinary and integrated medical care that elderly patients require, highlights Su.

This upcoming geriatric hospital hopes to fill that gap by extending healthcare “from the hospital, to the community and into family,” says Su. The use of smart technology like the AI companion robots will combine with a patient-centric approach to do so, she continues.

Besides providing healthcare services, the geriatric hospital will also have an education centre which will focus on research for elderly medicine and smart care. It will also cultivate professional talents in geriatric medicine, she says.

That countries are ageing today is a testament to the progress the world has made in healthcare and sanitation. But countries now need to keep advancing to support this ageing population. Tech like AI can pave the way for elderly citizens to age in place and thrive in their golden years.