Spain leads the ranking of the most aged countries in the world, only behind Japan, according to data from the United Nations Organization (UN). The National Statistics Institute (INE) forecasts that by 2050 the proportion of people over 65 years of age will exceed 30% of the Spanish population. This organization indicates that more than two million elderly people are living alone, and of these, 7 out of 10 are women.
Because of this scenario, the Cuatroochenta Chair and the Mémora Foundation have signed an agreement to cooperate in the study and implementation of initiatives to improve the end-of-life process, especially for the elderly in a situation of unwanted loneliness. The Foundation's vision is to help people in the end-of-life process. To this end, it carries out awareness-raising, research and innovation, training and social action to achieve a positive impact on society.
Serena: a conversational robot to detect loneliness
Serena is one of the projects promoted by the Chair that will benefit from this agreement. It consists of the development of a conversational robot capable of communicating with a person through a natural interface such as speech. Based on the answers given by the elderly person in the conversation, Serena estimates whether he/she is at risk of suffering from unwanted loneliness. In order for Serena to detect speech patterns that indicate that a person is lonely, the researchers apply artificial intelligence and natural language processing (NLP) techniques.
Technological solutions to improve the well-being of the elderly.
In September 2021, the Serena project became part of the initiatives framed within the Observatory of Cities that Care, the starting point of the collaboration between the Chair and the Foundation. In 2019, together with the La Caixa Foundation, Mémora created the Observatory of Cities that Care. Thanks to this project, they have built a meeting space for the different initiatives that are carried out to involve society actively in the end-of-life process.
The ageing of the population, the increase in life expectancy and the greater number of single-person households are creating a new panorama. This is the first time in history that four generations are living together. This implies the appearance of new needs on the part of the population. In this scenario, the collaboration between the Chair and the Foundation is a commitment to adapt to the needs of a population reaching older ages. The interest of both parts is to contribute to improving the health and quality of life of the population. This cooperation will promote projects where technologies help to meet the needs of the elderly and improve their well-being, avoiding, as far as possible, death in solitude.
In a recent interview with À Punt Ràdio, the directors of the Chair, Óscar Belmonte and Antonio Caballer, reflected on new technologies and their role in the problem of unwanted loneliness. Belmonte stressed that the development of technological solutions, such as Serena, can become "a support to facilitate the work of healthcare personnel". For his part, Caballer recalled that "with the pandemic, we have seen how the elderly have turned to technology to communicate with their families". He pointed out that research is being carried out into the protective role of technologies in the mental health of the elderly.