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Hi Robot! This ‘Cutii’ is Helping Senior Citizens Stay Connected, Healthy During COVID

February 11, 2021

Healthcare providers have brainstormed to come up with ways to keep senior citizens engaged and connected during the COVID pandemic, often relying on technology to replace face-to-face contact. Hartford HealthCare’s Independence at Home program has upped the tech game this year, bringing a robot called ‘Cutii’ into clients’ homes.

“Use of various forms of technology, including a robot like Cutii, can connect seniors to exercise programs to combat deconditioning through exercise programs,” said Wendy Martinson, Director of Hartford HealthCare’s Center for Healthy Aging. “Research has shown that exercise has a direct effect on a person’s mood and it makes people happy.

“Technology can also be used to help seniors organize their day, remind them to take medications, eat and drink. It can be used to play happy music, engage in ‘brain games’ to help maintain brain health or participate in virtual social events such as educational programs or support groups.”

Cutii is a voice-controlled companion robot designed specifically for seniors. It is mobile, autonomous, fully voice-controlled and includes a network of specialized live activities available from within the user’s home. The Cutii robot comes from France-based startup CareClever.

For 76-year old Suanne McMahon of Bristol, above, her Cutii is a welcome new roommate.

“For people who are really isolated and lonely, I think this is a blessing,” she said.

Recovering from cancer and unable to really leave her apartment because of COVID, Suanne takes tai chi classes via Cutii, makes her medical appointments, has virtual visits with her doctors, and stays in touch with her family.

“Her voice alone is so soothing,” she said of her robot. “I think it’s a very wonderful idea.”

Bringing the robot to Connecticut is part of Hartford HealthCare’s partnership with Upward Labs, a Hartford-area program focused on developing and nurturing early-stage companies developing pilot programs in the smart building and aged care market segments. Hartford HealthCare and Upward Labs are working on several other technology projects that will help the elderly stay well. Upward Labs is holding a virtual Demo Day on Tuesday, Feb. 16, to highlight some of these projects.

“Innovation is in our DNA,” said David Whitehead, SVP and Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer at Hartford HealthCare. “We are always moving forward, always innovating and bringing more to the patients and communities we serve. We are proud to join forces and bring aged care solutions to the next level, piloting the most innovative technology to solve very real problems like social isolation and elderly falls. Together, we will create a healthier and safer future.”

Isolation of the elderly population, both those in care facilities and those who live independently, has been one of the most serious ripple effects of the COVID pandemic. Being cut off from family, friends and regular day-to-day routines has led to increases in depression, substance abuse and physical decline.

Social isolation “leads to boredom, confusion, frustration, decreased mobility and deconditioning, putting seniors at risk for falls and an overall feeling of sadness,” said Martinson. “Many lose their appetite and don’t eat or drink as much, putting them at risk for malnutrition and dehydration.

“Seniors, especially those who just started with a memory loss, have called us to say, ‘I just can’t concentrate on anything.’ From what we see, it seems to have sped up their memory loss.”

So far this year, HHC has provided two robots to clients, one in Bristol and one in Cheshire, to test for six weeks. The goal is to have more available throughout the year. Clients who are unable to leave their homes, have an in-home caregiver to help with the technology, and were interested in testing the robot received the two Cutiis at no cost to them, said Kesha R. Shah, Administrative Fellow with Hartford HealthCare’s Community Network.

“Our seniors are particularly vulnerable to isolation and the emotional losses associated with COVID,” said Dr. Laura Saunders, Assistant Director of Psychology at the Institute of Living. “Inclement weather (snow, cold, ice) only further exacerbates  isolation and increases the dangers inherent in leaving home during a pandemic. A companion, even a robot companion, offers some emotional stimulation and connection during these very difficult times and could very well be life-saving for our seniors.”

Eric Smullen, the vice president of operations for Hartford Healthcare’s Community Network said, “social interaction can do so much so anything that engages people when they are sheltering in place is a great thing. I’m glad we have the chance to deploy this. It’s amazing what it can do.”

Martinson acknowledges a robot can’t take the place of a son, daughter or grandchild.

“Although we can’t see and hug one another we can connect virtually through many different technology platforms, which keeps us connected with our families and friends,” she said. “It’s not the same as in person, but it does provide us a way to engage in conversation and remain connected.”

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