Despite innovations that make it easier for seniors to keep living on their own rather than moving into special facilities, most elderly people eventually need a hand with chores and other everyday activities.
Friends and relatives often can’t do all the work. Growing evidence indicates it’s neither sustainable nor healthy for seniors or their loved ones. Yet demand for professional caregivers already far outstrips supply, and experts say this workforce shortage will only get worse.
So how will our society bridge this elder-care gap? In a word, robots.
Just as automation has begun to do jobs previously seen as uniquely suited for humans, like retrieving goods from warehouses, robots will assist your elderly relatives. As a robotics researcher, I believe artificial intelligence has the potential not only to care for our elders but to do so in a way that increases their independence and reduces their social isolation.
In the 2004 movie “I, Robot,” the robot-hating protagonist Del Spooner (played by Will Smith) is shocked to discover a robot in his grandmother’s house, baking a pie. You may have similar mental images: When many people imagine robots in the home, they envision mechanized domestic workers doing tasks in human-like ways.
In reality, many of the robots that will provide support for older adults who “age in place” – staying at home when they might otherwise be forced to relocate to assisted living or nursing homes – won’t look like people.
Instead, they will be specialized systems, akin to the Roomba, iRobot’s robotic vacuum cleaner and the first commercially successful consumer robot. Small, specific devices are not only easier to design and deploy, they allow for incremental adoption as requirements evolve over time.
Seniors, like everyone else, need different things. Many need help with the mechanics of eating, bathing, dressing and standing up – tasks known as “activities of daily living.” Along with daily help with cooking and managing their medications, they can benefit from a robotic hand with more intermittent things such as doing the laundry and getting to the doctor’s office.
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