Technological change is accelerating in every aspect of life and health care and aging services are part of it. Last week, it was reported that UPS is planning to use drones in the near future to deliver medical supplies to some health providers. Time magazine, in its November 4th Health Innovation issue, devotes much of the magazine to these issues. In one article, The Robot Will See You Now, it reports on a demonstration of a “social robot” that interacts with older persons at Knollwood Military Retirement Community near Washington. The Robotics and Innovation Lab at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland is working with the health facility to try out robots which are used in multiple tasks. Robots help to lift patients. There are delivery robots that “zip around hospital hallways like motorized room service carts.” There are “social” robots which comfort dementia patients. The article describes “Stevie” a “socially assertive” robot who engages with residents. “He” moves autonomously and like Alexa he can respond to questions. He can tell jokes and go door to door taking meal orders with his touchscreen attachment.
In the next three years there will be a 29% increase in the demand for these social robots and a 45% increase in demand for rehab robots. As the population ages, there will be an estimated shortfall of 151,000 paid care workers in the United States by 2030 and 355,000 by 2040.
There is a debate about whether this technology should be used to replace human contact, but health care experts and aging advocates say they can be of assistance to enhance services and provide information and support rather than replace people. It is an issue though that older persons and their advocates should be discussing. Here in Albany, many of us are talking about having a committee as part of our local village movement to discuss technology’s benefits and drawbacks. Above all, we want to be educated and know and understand what new innovations can enhance the quality of life.