Social healthcare robots: the solution to loneliness in the LGBTIQA+ community?

Technology doesn’t always seem to get the best rap when it comes to forging positive human connection. It’s often said to be a major cause of the anxiety and depression experienced by around three million Australians – young and old. But can technology actually help improve mental health, reduce loneliness and restore human connection? Are healthcare robots the future?

Charles Sturt University PhD candidate, Adam Poulsen, is exploring new ways to address the unique needs of older LGBTIQA+ Australians. He believes that healthcare robots could be a much needed solution to help combat loneliness for this group of people.

Studying his third degree with Charles Sturt, a Doctor of Philosophy (Business), Adam’s research focuses on artificial intelligence and robotics; computer, machine, and care ethics; elderly care; value-sensitive design; behavioural and social sciences; philosophy of technology and life.

Bringing to life ideas that matter

Adam is tapping into emerging technologies to pursue his research interests – and push knowledge forward.

“Computer science is a very interesting and misunderstood area. Computer science is not really about computers themselves, it is about the many, unseen processes that use information to create what we see on a computer screen.

“I graduated from Charles Sturt University with a Bachelor of Computer Science. At Charles Sturt, I have always felt like my ideas and interests mattered. Charles Sturt has allowed me to explore my research interests with unwavering support and freedom.”

How computer science transforms the world

For Adam, there is much to consider, socially and ethically, when delving into computer technology of the future.

“The main takeaway from completing my Bachelor of Computer Science with Charles Sturt was that computers and computer processes have an ethical impact on users. What are these processes doing with your information? Are your best interests being taken care of? Are your values (human, moral, community, social, and so on) being acknowledged and respected in your interactions with these computers?

“My passion for computer science is sparked by the opportunity to explore these types of questions through my research.”

Addressing real-world issues through social healthcare robots

Adam’s research is devoted to helping improve the quality of life of older LGBTIQA+ people who face challenges that can lead to social isolation and poor mental health.

“The high rates of loneliness experienced by this population are caused by social isolation brought on by the fear of ageing as an LGBTIQA+ person resulting from historical discrimination and limited recognition of unique LGBTIQA+ needs.

“The elderly LGBTIQA+ community is experiencing rates of loneliness higher than the general population. Further, in Australia, only five per cent of LGBTIQA+ elderly people have a partner, compared to 20 per cent of the non-LGBTIQA+ elderly.”

“In my PhD research, I am specifically looking at the unique social needs and values of this population. Among the needs and values discovered in the pilot study, the key ones were social connectivity, community, respect, equality, equity, companionship, LGBTIQA+ connectivity, gender identity-based activities, and appreciating difference.

“My research aims to create social connectedness for this often-forgotten community with social care robots, helping connect them to other persons through robot technologies.

How robots can help to tackle loneliness once and for all

So, how can social healthcare robots actually help here? Adam has the answers.

“We can design social care robots with the needs and values of the LGBTIQA+ elder community in mind. Consequently, we are explicitly attempting to create value sensitive, culturally competent care robots that acknowledge and meet these needs and values.

“For instance, to meet the value of LGBTIQA+ connectivity, we could design care robots to be connected via a social network for LGBTIQA+ elders that hosts video or voice calls amongst other members of the community.”

Exploring a love for knowledge at Charles Sturt

Adam’s thirst for knowledge has rewarded him with many fond memories throughout his time with the Charles Sturt family.

 “Studying with Charles Sturt has been a fantastic experience. I have completed a bachelor’s and honours degree, and now I am working on my PhD here – I just keep coming back. Nothing beats the freedom and genuine love for knowledge that Charles Sturt University radiates.”

“My favourite memories are in the classrooms. Charles Sturt academics are so approachable and genuinely interested in your ideas and research pursuits.

“In short, my supervisors are all brilliant, and supportive of my research pursuits. I have four supervisors in total and each brings a unique perspective. Importantly, each is honest and provides a truthful critique of my work while suggesting areas for improvement.”

A helping hand

Adam was also thrilled to have received a scholarship to undertake his PhD research.

“I remember telling my mum when I received a research scholarship offer. We cried for about 10 minutes. Simply, without a scholarship I would not have the opportunity to pursue a PhD.”

Adam’s advice for pursuing research study?

“Most importantly, be present and get stuck in. If you want to make positive changes you need to immerse yourself into a community to build a level of trust and mutual commitment, thereafter you need to be consistent and advocate for betterment.”

Create a world worth living in

What does a better world look like to you? Does it mean finding a cure for illnesses, improving education, making new discoveries, leading a movement or developing innovative technologies? Or is it about having an impact in your local community and making a difference to the little guys out there? If you’ve ever wanted to make a difference in a career you’re passionate about, you can with us.

Our wide range of courses will give you the skills and industry knowledge so you can be the change you want to see in the world. Follow your heart, get qualified and land a job you’ll love with Charles Sturt University. Let’s get to work!