The development of assistance robots within aged care comes with promises to help improve services and the quality of life for older people in aged care facilities and at those living at home. This technology will also assist with and relieve some of the work done by carers who are already under large amounts of stress.
The introduction of assistance robots may sound all positive, however, when you look to see how other robot-like technologies have been implemented in other spaces (supermarkets with their self checkouts, airport with their e-gates etc.) does this mean that they will eventually replace human carers? What impact does this have? Is their a place for both?
The human side to caring
When people move into care, this is often preluded by a medical event or life event which requires them to need a higher level of assistance than they are currently recieving in their own home. While robots may be able assist with meeting the medical and physical needs of caring for someone in aged care, there are still emotional and social needs that should to be met.
Connection and interactivity with other humans is a critical source of intangible value. An overview of research into this area by Canada’s McMaster University shows older adults worry the use of socially assistive robots may lead to a dehumanised society and a decrease in human contact. “Also, despite their preference for a robot capable of interacting as a real person, they perceived the relationship with a humanoid robot as counterfeit, a deception,” according to the university.
The same research found that older adults also perceived the surveillance function of socially assistive robots as a threat to their autonomy and privacy. For more information on this issue, read ‘E-tagging’ – Safety vs. dignity
Is it deceptive?
The move to create assistance robots that are humanoid in appearance or may take the form of a cuddly animal cause a particular concern about the use of such robots with people who are cognitively impaired.
While it is a guiding principle in the artificial intelligence community that the robots should not be deceptive, some have argued that it should not matter if someone with dementia believes their cuddly assistance robot is alive, if it brings them comfort.
What is the solution?
Whatever happens in the coming years, it is important to value the work that carers do both in a home and aged care setting. Robots should be introduced to assist carers to be able to meet both the emotional, physical, medial and spiritual needs of those they care for, not replace them.