Caregiving is stressful and sometimes dangerous work, affecting the health and well being of caregivers as well as care recipients. Technology has made monumental strides in medical care, and some of those changes are reflected in recent caregiving trends with older adults. The fantasy of replacing or supplementing human caregivers with robotic ones has gone from wishful thinking to a new reality.
A recent article in the New York Times Sunday Review highlighted the potential benefits of robot caregivers in keeping up with the demand for senior care in an aging population. Louise Aronson of the University of California, San Francisco, offered insights into many of the advantages that mechanized caregivers can provide. They include:
Availability of 24/7 care due to lack of sleep requirements — and, presumably, exemption from labor laws;
Greater precision; e.g., fewer medication errors;
Reduce neglect and abuse due to boredom, frustration, or impatience;
Ability to reduce the caregiver workforce crunch – we don’t have enough human caregivers to provide for the growing number of older adults.
Aronson sees robot caregivers as taking a supplemental role to human care.
To date, Japanese and European companies have invested much more heavily in robot development than the U.S. Only last year, the Japanese health ministry started a program that promotes nursing-care robots for moving and lifting patients. Mobiserve, a project developed by a consortium of European companies and research entities, features a human-looking robot that serves as a “social companion” and provides patients with everything from appointment reminders to healthy eating prompts. Swedish researchers have developed GiraffPlus, a robot that monitors various health functions such as blood pressure. It also provides a screen to facilitate virtual visits with family members and doctors.
We believe that humans will always make the best caregivers. Technological solutions will never remove the need for caring individuals with a truly human touch. However, we support the creative use of technology to supplement the efforts of families and professionals in providing oversight and support to older adults in need of care.