Can Carebots Look After Your Senior Loved Ones?

Q. Caregiving for my mother, who has dementia, has been really challenging both physically and emotionally. I admit that I need help, but hiring someone is so expensive and it’s often hard to find the right person, especially with the shortage of caregivers out there. Sometimes I secretly wish that there were robots that were available for middle-class people like me, who can help with caregiving tasks. With all the technology out there, is my wish any closer to becoming a reality? You seem to know a lot about senior technology, based on your many articles on the topic. Is something like I am describing out there and able to help in-home caregivers similar to myself? Thanks for your help!

A. Senior care remains a growing concern, with seniors living longer and with a significant shortage of caregivers.

Additional caregivers are needed for our senior loved ones, but challenges such as physical demands and the risks of injuries, along with low pay and lack of benefits, make good in-home caregivers hard to find. Thankfully, engineers have come up with specialized robotics, known as carebots, that can reduce the burden on caregivers in some situations.

Carebots can be smart apps that remind users when to take their medication to more advanced robotic devices that can retrieve prescriptions for patients or help patients get out of bed, as I will describe.

Understanding Carebots

When you think of Carebots, robots may be the first thing to come to mind, and in many cases, carebots are robots. In fact, “carebots“ has become a general term for robots that offer specialized care services. The most popular carebots are physical assistant robots, mobile servant robots, and person carrier robots. These are some examples:

– ASIMO: Honda’s ASIMO features a sophisticated design, enabling it to walk with human-motion and detect objects within its immediate environment. The advanced machine oversees the safety and care of individuals who require assistance. According to the official ASIMO site, the robot serves as “another set of eyes, ears, hands, and legs for all kinds of people in need.”

GeckoSystems CareBot: Georgia-based technology company GeckoSystems provides a range of advanced Carebots equipped with in-depth motion sensors, with their flagship robot being referred to as the CareBot (TM). The CareBot (TM) features self-navigating capabilities between preset points within a home environment. Sample routes include paths from the bedrooms to medicine cabinets and living room to adjoining bathrooms. GeckoSystems bots’s navigation systems have been trial-tested in mock conditions that resemble highly cluttered home environments, with highly responsive results.

– Kaspar: While most carebots assist seniors, they may also cater to the needs of other dependent groups, such as children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Kaspar, a carebot designed by a team at the University of Hertfordshire, responds to tactile interactions (skin contact), which supports autism treatments by serving as a safe and predictable learning tool for communication and social interactions.

According to a recent article in the Guardian, carebots can “look less like robots and more like invisible pieces of code, webcams, and algorithms. They can control who gets what test at the doctor’s office or how many care hours are received by a person on Medicaid. And they’re everywhere. Often, human caregivers work through and alongside automated systems that set forth recommendations, manage and surveil their labor, and allocate resources.”

The Role of Carebots in Our Society

While the need for additional caregivers remains critical, carebots will undoubtedly play a significant role in fulfilling the demands of senior care in our country.

As mentioned previously, carebots are emerging because of a shortage of caregivers. The US has underinvested in caregiving, relying heavily on informal family support and an industry sustained by poorly paid workers. These workers have a median annual salary of $25,000, and a good percentage of the caregiving workforce lives below the federal poverty level. Yet, demand for their labor is set to soar. In the United States, more than 50 million people are over the age of 65, and this number is expected to nearly double by 2060. The question remains: who will care for them?

With the use of carebots and other technology, there is a growing faith that tech can fill this gap, with the help of robots, artificial intelligence, and remote monitoring. Exhausted and understaffed caregivers could have sensors and webcams to help them keep tabs on seniors’ health and wellbeing. The emergence of such technology could also help seniors age-in-place in the comfort of their homes. But many people are reluctant when it comes to carebots, due to issues of privacy and trust, and other issues that I will describe.

Issues with Caregiving Technology

While there are potential enormous benefits of the technology in terms of safety for older people and a reprieve for caregivers, some also worry about its potential harms. Here are some of the issues that have arisen, according to a recent National Institute of Health paper:

– Decrease in human contact: There is concern that carebots are incapable of meeting the social and emotional needs of older persons under their care. “Robots do not understand human frailties and therefore cannot show care for vulnerable people. Moreover, the use of carebots may result in a decrease in the amount of human contact experienced by the older persons, which would be detrimental to their well-being.

– Deception: Carebots that aim to imitate a human companion or caregiver raise the possibility that the user will be unable to judge whether they are communicating with a real person or with technology. This could be experienced as a form of deception or fraud. Can the deception be regarded as benevolent or benign? Does that make the deception morally permissible?

–  Over-reliance on carebots: Caregivers may be over-reliant on robots to do the caring work, and technology (for example, to aid patients with motor impairment) may at times impede the improvement in health conditions of care recipients (where the care recipient refuses to make the attempt to walk without technological assistance). Vulnerable patients may also suffer from over-attachment to carebots.

Privacy: Carebots capture, store, and process personal and sensitive data about the care recipient’s health conditions and movements. Personal data and confidential information such as the health conditions and emotional responses of the care recipient during social interactions may be disclosed to and stored in the carebot, to which the robotics companies may have access. They are networked devices that collect, store or process the data. The typical care recipient, especially young children and seniors, may not be aware of the significant data-processing capacity of carebots. There is a risk that the collection and disclosure of the data by carebots during such interactions could infringe privacy rights and possibly even cause embarrassment to users.

When Technology is Not Enough to Make Aging-in-Place the Best Option

Most people want to stay in their home for as long as possible, and technology such as carebots will certainly prove helpful. However, if despite the technology that is available, you or a loved one cannot live independently and are showing signs that living alone is a strain, it may be time to consider other alternatives.

Whether the outcome is in-home care, assisted living, or nursing home care, it is always wise to plan ahead. Life Care Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection is the process of protecting assets from having to be spent down in connection with receiving nursing home level care at home, or going into assisted living or nursing home care, while helping ensure that you and your loved ones get the best possible care and maintain the highest possible quality of life. Please contact us whenever you’re ready to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

Elder Care Attorney Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Elder Care Attorney Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Elder Care Attorney Rockville: 301-519-8041
Elder Care Attorney DC: 202-587-2797
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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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