Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Robots as Caregivers?

A little while back, I submitted a proposal for my Master's thesis project which I will start early next year. It took me awhile to decide on my subject matter, but after researching various interest areas, I decided on the topic of robots as caregivers. Some professors were intrigued by my decision, while others were disturbed by it and flatly refused to support me. Nonetheless, I became interested in this topic due to current articles written on the shortage of caregivers. There are greater numbers of older people who need caregivers in relation to the numbers of caregivers available. Why not look at alternative ways to meet this need?

This past week, I had a chance to watch Robot & Frank on DVD. This film came out last year, but I only heard about it recently from my gerontology classmates who, upon learning of my thesis subject, urged me to watch this film.

Without giving much of the plot away, this story is about Frank, an older man whose behavior suggests signs of cognitive decline (i.e., unkempt home, rotten food in the refrigerator). His son Hunter, who makes long, weekly treks to check up on his father, is unsuccessful in trying to get him tested for dementia. Frank insists everything is fine, and not knowing what to do, Hunter buys a caregiving robot to help ensure his father's safety and wellbeing. Having the robot look after Frank provides piece of mind for Hunter who struggles to make time for his own children. To make a long story short, Frank eventually develops a friendship with the robot that serves as a caregiver and a non-judgmental confidante. In the end, after a series of risky events (watch the film to find out!), Frank deactivates the robot and eventually moves to an assisted living facility.

I enjoyed watching this movie; the relationship between Frank and the Robot was particularly touching. Although robots cannot replace the human touch, this film made them seem like practical options that might work for some people.

Me and my brother on a boat.
Technology cannot resolve all our issues, but perhaps we can utilize robots to provide respite and lighten the load of caregivers who are overworked, underpaid (or unpaid), and undervalued. If robots can help with various tasks, caregivers may also have some time to do what they need or want to do.

Incidentally, there is a recent article on BBC News online titled, 'A robot is my friend': Can machines care for the elderly? This story examines the idea of robots as caregivers. I am curious about what you think. Do you think robots as caregivers is feasible, or do you think it's a ridiculous idea? What are some alternative ideas to resolve the caregiver shortage? Thank you for reading this post!

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