Robotic Eldercare

In my father’s last few weeks, we got him an Amazon Echo. We made playlists of his favorite music, taught him to ask it the time and weather, set up MyBuddy so he can ask for help if something happened.

And he talked to it. And asked it questions. And flirted with it.

Paro has been around for over a decade. The robotic seal companion is a favorite of many elderly people, giving them simulated companionship and not having that annoying feature of having to clean litterboxes or make sure they are fed. The affection that people feel for Paro isn’t just a joke in Master of None.

So when I saw this article on Salon on how the elderly will love their robotic eldercare, it clicked. A robot caregiver will definitely be welcomed by the elderly. Sometimes the elderly can be curmudgeonly or irritable, causing their care staff to loathe and avoid interaction. A robotic caregiver will hold no such biases. Also an interactive robot can be interactive, and it will not take a lot of interaction to make it enjoyable to a lonely older person. My father loved Alexa even though most of her responses were variations of “I don’t know what you mean.” If it listened (and possibly recorded for posterity or medical diagnosis) conversations with their patient and gave encouraging responses, as well as provided physical interactions, many would embrace it. If it provided the, ahem, release that nursing homes are sometimes notorious for, it may make for happier residents with none of the nasty social or medical repercussions attached to physical interpersonal relationships.

I think these bots are the future of eldercare, especially with millions of boomers marching through their late 60s and 70s. Of course, a problem enters from the point of view that thousands of people have bet their career future on elder care. Yet another job to be automated, displacing millions of workers.

Edit: one of my Facebook friends pointed out this link about how the Japanese and their notorious resistance to immigration are welcoming the bot nurse’s with open arms.

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