Can you imagine a world where robots help to take care of the seniors in our community? Do you think that would be a good technological development, or a bad mistake? The reality is that in the future the elderly will likely account for over 15% of the global population. Caring for those seniors, emotionally, mentally, and physically will be an enormous undertaking. The load may be too large to handle for the number of trained professionals who are willing to take on the job. Experts at the University of Salford in England are working to find a potential solution to this future problem.
According to these scientists, robots may hold the key to meeting the needs of the aging population. One model has already been designed that is able to monitor patients, communicate with doctors, and provide basic care and even companionship. For many people, robots may seem like an impersonal solution that cannot possibly provide real, valuable care. However, the experts who have developed the idea claim that robots have great potential. Automated home systems are already able to detect everything from falls to the stove being left on too long. Robots are able to take this level of care a step further. They can remind people with memory problems of important information like when to take medicine, or what someone’s phone number is. Robots may also help to promote social activity and brain stimulation in aging adults who don’t have family or friends. These elder-care robots are able to actually chit-chat and have the capacity to challenge the user with games while tracking their progress or loss of memory over time.
Some ideas for these robots involve the inclusion of screens which would allow patients and doctors to connect more often without a visit to the office. Family and friends would also be able to connect through the screen in a way similar to Skype on the computer today. The robots also may have the capacity to check vitals and report back to medical professionals making inconvenient doctor visits less frequent.
Japan is already experimenting with elder care robots. The Japanese government is seriously considering robots as a solution to the growing elder care problem there and has already budgeted $34 million for research of senior care robots. It will most likely be over twenty years, if ever, before elder care robots are a universal reality. Researchers are working on improving reliability and general function but there will always be the issue of ethics. Is it morally wrong to allow our elders to be cared for by machines? Or is it an ingenious solution to a growing problem? That is something for future generations to decide.