E S S A Y The future is now. Or something like it. For a long time it seemed like only the Japanese were exploring all the ways that robotics could be of service to their aging population. With its labor shortage and lower birthrate, the Japanese felt compelled to turn to robotics to take care of their elderly. I admit I was very amused to see a contraption that washed and dried someone, but when there is a severe shortage of caregivers and that shortage is only getting worse, it’s what you do.
And now it’s here. Retirement homes and assisted living facilities in the U.S. are testing a variety of robotic tools that undoubtedly will be commonplace by the time most boomers are ready for them. A telepresence robot helps residents stay in touch with family and friends via video. With isolation and loneliness being such a tremendous problems for older adults, this tool is life changing.
Virtual reality technology allows seniors to revisit destinations they remember fondly and experience new places they always wanted to visit but are physically unable to experience any other way. Finally, a worthwhile use of VR capability other than gaming.
What’s most encouraging about this entire trend is that inventors are cutting through the geeky side of technology to make it so much easier for the elderly to access the benefits. Tricky interfaces and passwords are out and voice recognition is in. Much like automobile multimedia interfaces, you can request a service, function or communication device with a voice command. Consider the capability of Amazon’s intelligent personal assistant Alexa to see where this is going. Calling up entertainment options and being able to interface with home automation functions such as lighting and HVAC will supplant many standard caregiver functions.
This is big. We are about to experience a level of technology that changes the way we’re going to age. While it’s true that the age of social media sometimes dulls actual human interaction, an older population with limited mobility and resources will most likely be very grateful for any kind of connectedness that reduces their sense of isolation.
How far can all of this technology go? Most experts believe that in the next five years we will have robots that pick up objects, do the laundry, wash the dishes and provide basic housecleaning.
I would take that now, thank you very much.