Will There Be Robotic Caregivers in the Future?

Just imagine, a world where robots helped care for the elderly, taking on tasks that allow caregivers to have more time to focus on their own health and well-being. Although this may sound like science-fiction, we’re not that far off from making this concept a reality.

As the baby boomer population ages, caregiving demands will also increase. Based on the stats reported by Statistics Canada, nearly a quarter of the population will be aged 65 and older by 2051. This will mean an increased need for caregivers.

For anyone that currently cares for a loved one, you know how physically and emotionally draining this role can be. Many are apprehensive about what the future brings for themselves and their families. We need greater support so that seniors are properly cared while the younger population maintains positive health.

Based on the increasing need for caregivers and the challenges these individuals face, some countries have begun investing in robot development. In Japan specifically, robots are referred to as ‘iyashi’ which means healing. The health ministry in Japan designed a program based on work shortages, preventing nurses from sustaining workplace injuries by promoting robots that help lift and move patients.

This trend is being seen across the world, as researchers in Sweden developed GiraffPlus; a complex system that monitors blood pressure and detects whether or not an individual has fallen down. It also offers a screen so that individuals can have virtual meetings with their doctors or family members.

The same is true throughout Europe with Mobiserv, a touch-screen social companion that reminds individuals to take their medications and upcoming appointments, as well as the importance of eating healthy, socializing, and exercise. Seven countries have been involved in this project and the results have been positive so far.

A little closer to home in the United States, researchers are now developing robot-caregiver prototypes. Of course, many are skeptical. Sure, we have robots that assist in surgery and help deliver supplies throughout hospitals, but these tasks are much different in comparison to being a caregiver or friend.

With that being said, the potential for social and emotional robot caregivers can be seen through the technology we already have. Think about when you are in public. Most people avoid one another, as they engage in their phones and tablets. Although the interaction is technically human to machine, people are often interacting with other humans. On that level, these devices do provide satisfaction and stimulation for millions of people on the planet.

A little less controversial are the robotics pets that are being tested amongst Alzheimer’s patients. The Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing is highly interested in animal-based therapy. They tested two robotics pets within the San Francisco Bay Area and the findings were exciting. When engaging with robotic pets, patients were calmer, as pacing and anxiety were reduced. This is similar to Polly, a robotic talking parrot who many family caregivers have said is well worth the investment.

Although the medical and science community has been optimistic regarding robotic pets, many are hesitant when it comes to robotic care. It’s believed that it would take several generations in order for seniors to be comfortable with this type of care.

Most believe that a robot simply cannot replace human interaction when it comes to caregiving. There’s nothing that compares to human compassion, empathy, and warmth. Although there will be an increased demand for caregivers, robotic replacements may hurt who we are as a culture.

Personal disconnections will diminish which is concerning. If we begin to rely on technology and robots for all our care and support needs, we’ll be moving in a misguided direction. Like anything regarding technology, there will need to be the right balance moving forward so that we can effectively blend robotic assistance with the warmth of human care.

If you’d like to learn more about the current robot revolution, please watch Roboticize Me.

photo credit: Star Tours Preview, Tampa via photopin (license)

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