Resources for Family Caregivers of Older Adults
Robot Caregivers: Assistance on the Way for Seniors & Family Caregivers

Robot Caregivers: Assistance on the Way for Seniors & Family Caregivers

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When we dream of the future, does an image of the Jetsons come into your mind?

Back in the 1960s we thought we would be driving cars in the air and have our meals magically appear from the wall.

We all thought we would get a robot maid like Rosie too!

That future – well maybe not quite that extreme – may actually be closer than we think, as robot caregivers come marching over the horizon toward the homes of our elder loved ones.

As attractive as that sounds, there are several questions to be resolved. Will robotic caregivers be a good thing? Will they fill a gap for caregivers and senior loved ones? Oh, and who will pay for them?

What Can Robots Do For Our Seniors?

If you saw the movie Robot and Frank, you know that the robot was trained by Frank to help him do things others would not, including robbing a bank. We don’t want robots to help seniors commit a crime but there are many ways robots have been designed to help seniors. They may be especially helpful for those seniors with dementia.

Let’s see what robot caregivers can do. Some of these are in limited application or even beta right now, but there are realistic expectations they could soon be doing all of them for our senior loved ones before long.

  • Robotic caregivers can answer those with dementia with the same tone of voice without frustration no matter how many times a day they are asked “what time is it.” They won’t show their frustration by yelling in answer or become abusive. Robots have unending patience.
  • Caregiving robots will be there every day, twenty four hours a day. They will not call in sick, be late or just decide not to come today. They can be there when family caregivers are at work or live at a long distance.
  • Robotic caregivers can lift a senior into and out of bed, up from a chair or into the car in a safe way and their backs won’t give out so that they can no longer lift anymore.
  • It is anticipated caregiving robots will be designed to perform tasks, such as assistance with toileting or personal care, that may be uncomfortably personal for seniors when delivered by a close family member or paid caregiver who is a stranger.
  • A robotic caregiver can give gentle reminders about doctor or beauty shop appointments, medication dispensing and can encourage social engagement, healthy eating and physical activity. It can then report to the family caregiver about the progress and compliance with the schedule.
  • Robot caregivers equipped with tablets can monitor health data and vital signs like blood pressure and can complete a virtual doctor appointment and family visits via Skype or Facetime.
  • There are robotic caregivers that can also converse and sing with seniors with dementia who may or may not realize that this is not a real person. All they know is they are enjoying attention and interaction and are getting brain stimulation!
  • Robot caregivers can listen to even the wildest story or one that is nonsensical without dampening the spirits of the person with dementia.
  • Not surprisingly, caregiving robots don’t require sleep themselves so can watch seniors while they sleep and be ready for midnight bathroom trips or do the chores while seniors sleep freeing their day for real one on one supervision.
  • There are robotic caregivers that can read the morning newspaper out loud or your senior’s favorite book when they can no longer read the print.
  • Caregivers that are robots, just as those who are people, can exterminate boredom, loneliness and isolation in our senior loved ones.

The bottom line is that robotic caregivers are likely, before long, to make aging in place a reality for seniors who just need a little more assistance for their safety but don’t have a family caregiver who can be with them all the time.

Future of Seniors & Caregiving Robots

Here is a great video “Changing Batteries” that shows the bond between senior and robot caregiver. It illustrates some of the many activities and services that a robot caregiver can provide. Beware, the ending is very touching!

The reality is that prototypes for robot caregivers are in development, some in advanced testing. Some robot caregivers are already in use in other countries, including Japan where Paro, who looks like a baby seal, and Mobiserv are in place with aging seniors to help keep them safe because there is a work force shortage to care for seniors.

In Sweden a robot called GiraffPlus has been developed.

In America, robot caregivers are also in development but we seem to be slower getting an outcome.

Robots to Fill Caregiver Shortage?

There is a coming need for robot caregivers as the work force decreases and the number of family caregivers who can devote themselves to daily care falls short of meeting the needs of a rapidly aging population.

The question is not if robot caregivers will be a reality, but when.

The biggest question in our minds is not whether we will see robotic caregivers in our lifetimes but how theirs costs will be covered. The cost is currently prohibitive but. as with most technology, the cost should fall dramatically.

We realize robots won’t replace family caregivers and have not heard anyone suggest they will — or that they should. Their best utilization will be to augment the care provided by family members, doing things that may be difficult physically or emotionally for caregivers. If they do nothing more than give caregivers some much needed respite they will be providing real benefits.

I think we will all be interested in the future of robot caregivers whether we agree or disagree that they are necessary. As the technology continues to expand, perhaps they will not be just another future Jetsons dream, but become an affordable reality for the benefit of the aging population.

What are your thoughts about robot caregivers? Do you think there are applications for seniors for safe aging in place? Would you want one to supplement your own caregiving responsibilities if it was affordable?

Oh — we aren’t talking about flying cars like the one Mr. J flew around. Well, not yet at least!

6 Responses to Robot Caregivers: Assistance on the Way for Seniors & Family Caregivers

  1. Wonderful! Filling gaps where the need is greatest. I want a virtual pet next. The next step? My robot caregiver….Leave the plesantry to the family. A robot is a perfect caregiver substitute.

    • Thanks Mary! We definitely agree that some applications of robotics will free the caregiver to be able to do more connecting and less other tasks to keep the household running. Virtual pets fill a great need as well!

  2. I did see the movie Robot & Frank and it did make me consider robots in a whole new light. I agree that robots are the future and can play a valuable role in providing support. Thanks for an interesting post.

    • Glad you found it interesting Eileen! Robotics are definitely coming and many can benefit from some aspect of their use. Robots will be able to give support to caregivers and it will be interesting to see how the innovations are made to be practical!

  3. It’s exciting that we are able to talk about these technology advances without feeling silly since they are actually becoming a reality. Because family dwellings are so different in many ways (clutter, traffic flow, thresholds, etc), I think families will likely experience the smaller robots like Paro long before the more humanoid types like Mobiserv or GiraffPlus. It’s likely as well that families will see pieces of the technology in their homes first. Things like intelligent screens (tablets mounted to the wall) with personal, Siri like, assistants that, as mentioned in this article, can answer repetitive questions or help provide reminiscence in the case of dementia. Humanoid robots will continue showing up in facilities which will hopefully help perform routine tasks, thereby freeing up the staff to provide more personalized care. Nonetheless, with the impending shortage of caregivers, technology must fill the gaps.

    • Thanks Mike for sharing your thoughts. Smaller robotics will likely find a place in homes before a full size version. It does seem surreal after growing up thinking we may live on the moon to finally seeing some innovative technology benefit seniors and caregivers!Hopefully we will be able to afford to put it to use soon!

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