Think of a much-loved elderly relative of yours. Let’s call her Joanna. You’ll be pleased to learn that at her care home, Joanna is very well cared for. She can choose meals from the gourmet menus, select her entertainment schedule for the day, and book time slots for carers to get her up, clean her room and do her laundry.
Every request Joanna makes is listened to intently, acted upon swiftly and efficiently. It sounds like a deserved scenario for many in retirement!
These carers are amazing. Joanna can ask them pretty much any question and they will give her the correct answer in a matter of seconds. They’ll never interrupt and will always prioritise Joanna over everything else. Sounds too good to be true? It depends how you look at it. These carers are robots.
So, in the future, Joanna might well have the choice of super-efficient automatons or human carers. She could still choose to have conversations and banter with people who look after her or seek solace from them as a shoulder to cry on. On the other hand, robots will never get tired, bored, or bring their personality clashes into work with them, and they’ll be able to read and respond to Joanna’s emotional state as they scan her face.
We haven’t yet reached the stage of robots being able to do handling manoeuvres specific to each care plan, although with existing robotic surgery, we need to think about the consequences when this becomes a reality. Imagine somebody like Elon Musk venturing into this brave new Caring world: it will be a world away from clunky, 1980’s Dr Who robots! Indeed, companies like Aldebaran, who have built a caring robot called Romeo, are already thinking about taking up the slack for the ever-increasing demand from an ageing population.
Erica Lockhart former Chief Executive of Surrey Care Association believes that robots could have a place: “For older people living at home some daily tasks, even opening the curtains or switching on the kettle or TV. This might be really helpful as it helps retain independence. Sometimes routine tasks can be overwhelming as frailty increases. The same could apply in a care home and leave carers to do the job they do so brilliantly – care. I recall we had a demo of a robot at one of our conferences. It led us in singing and dancing, and care providers were enthralled and joined in, so a robot could enhance an activity programme for older people. But what matters in moving this forward is what the “customers” think – especially during lockdown many older people have started to engage with technology and so opened the door to thinking in this area. But all have mourned the loss of physical contact, a hug or holding hands, and all the emotional side of human contact.”
DirectCareHub also thinks that the ability of people to choose their level of involvement in this merging of technology with care, and choice will be an essential factor in these deliberations.
Mike Prior, a board member of NACAS, says: “The concept of robots in care is not new, and there is already an increasing amount of digital/technical support available, much of which has improved patients’ outcomes and experiences.” He also adds: “Interestingly, Chris Papadapoulos, a leading AI researcher, points out that “In Japan, the concept of social care robotics is much more accepted. A quarter of Japanese people are over 65, and with a shortfall of care workers and an antipathy to immigration, the government there has invested considerable funding into care robots, with a Tokyo care home now using 20 different robots.”
Vic Rayner, CEO of the National Care Forum says: “Covid-19 has shown us that rather than being a sector which does not understand technology, social care has really accelerated the ways it explores and uses technology to improve efficiency, free up time to care, support data flow and enhance communication with families and loved ones. With this in mind, it is important that the idea of using robots in social care should not be seen as part of a frightening futuristic vision. However, decisions about how and when they might be used for the delivery of care must be taken in partnership with people who are using services now and in the future. Their potential to enhance independence, enable greater dignity during personal care and to provide companionship all need to be explored as part of an emerging ecosystem. Whilst always remembering that people need people, so human care workers will always be an essential ingredient of great quality care and support.”
DirectCareHub’s core business is affordably linking vetted and excellent self-employed local Carers to Care Providers. However, we also plan to realise the ambitions of our robot-loving technical director, Mathias Edoh. Mathias is full of practical ideas about installing life-enhancing software within our App, thereby complementing the expectations of Erica Lockhart, Vic Rayner Mike Prior and many others, and all the while giving Joanna the best care we possibly can.