Robot carer

Robots May Provide Cheaper Care, But Without the Human Touch

There is Still Room for Live in Care Despite Advances in Technology

The news that robots will soon be able to care for the elderly was met with excitement – but there’s only so much they can do.

Rarely a day goes by without the way we provide care for the infirm and elderly being in the news. With an ageing population and a shortage of social care, there are worries that we’re heading for a real crisis and simply won’t be able to cope. So it’s only natural that we’re looking for solutions – even turning to robotics. A recent article predicted that in just a few years we will be relying on robots to care for the elderly. Would they really be able to care for people in the same way as a human would though, or are there some things that a robot just can’t do?

Advances in robotics

The news that we could soon deploy robots to look after the elderly came at a press conference in Tokyo. The head of the Toyota Research Institute, one of the world’s leading authorities on robotic development, announced that they were building models that could help to care for older people. The robots would be able to carry out a variety of tasks, and would be able to safely handle people that are very frail. It’s worth mentioning that there have been no demonstrations of these robots in action yet, but Toyota are known for their cutting edge technology. If they’re talking about their work this confidently to journalists, it can’t be too long until we get a glimpse of these machines.

The personal touch

For all of their sophistication and delicacy though, can a robot care for a person in the same way that a carer would? Toyota insist that they’re building robots that can think as well as carry out tasks – similar to an autonomous car. While it’s clear that robots would be a massive help with manual tasks such as lifting someone in and out of the bath or helping them to prepare food, they simply cannot provide the personal touch that professionals from live in care agencies can. Robots cannot detect subtle changes in emotion or show empathy and understanding. To put it simply, they aren’t capable of understanding human behaviour yet. They also cannot provide conversation and companionship, which is something that many older people really need, especially if they are isolated.

The best of both worlds

So where do we go from here? It’s clear that there’s an appetite for robots that can help around the home. After all, we’re now buying things like robotic vacuum cleaners that seemed unimaginable a couple of decades ago. That’s where robots can be a real help to the elderly – assisting them with everyday tasks so that they can live in their own homes for longer. Providing hands on, empathic care? That might be some way off yet. Combining the care that humans can give and the assistance that robots can give with manual tasks could be a good option for the future. Like we said though, we’re a way off of that yet.

Live in care is still the best option

We’re not yet at the stage where robots are regular presences in the home, so elderly people still struggle with everyday tasks such as getting dressed, cleaning and just keeping themselves and their homes in good condition. If you’ve got a relative who is struggling to keep on top of things, then a live in carer may be an option. While they don’t have robot assistants just yet, they’re the best way for elderly people to maintain their independence for as long as possible.

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Larry Walker

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