According to a story from cmfblog.org.uk, caregiving could be another career field that will ultimately see automation replace human workers. While it may seem difficult and even a bit creepy to imagine robots taking care of patients, this reality is actually much closer than it may originally appear. In fact, robots are already commonly used for patient care in Japan, a country with a rapidly aging population.
In the UK at least, the care worker field is actually plummeting in popularity. This is another country with a population that is aging quickly, so demand for such workers should be high. However, 900 workers are leaving the field per day on average. Why? The most commonly cited reasons are insufficient pay and difficult working conditions. There are not nearly enough new workers entering the field to replace those that are leaving. It is starting to seem ever more likely that automated care givers—and yes, that means robots—are going to step in.
The initial appeal of robot caregivers is that these machines can be left to complete the more mundane or unpleasant tasks, which gives human caregivers more face to face interaction with the patient. While this is just a start, the potential of robot caregivers is significantly greater. In fact, there are three distinct aspects in which robots can help with caregiving: cognitive, physical, and social.
As Japan is the leader in robot caregiving, much of the latest progress has been made there. A robot doll called Kabochan was found to be capable of eliciting considerable improvements in mental health and cognitive function during trials. Robots can also assess the cognitive abilities of kids and another robot called Zora has been able to help improve the communications skills of disabled children.
Robots are also being used for difficult tasks such as lifting the elderly from their beds into wheelchairs or a bath tub. A robot named Stevie is designed with some human-like features to facilitate communication and give reminders to patients. Another named Rex has been able to help rehabilitate patients with debilitating conditions like multiple sclerosis. These machines can help prevent falls and allow patients to remain independent for longer.
Robots are also being used for social engagement and companionship. Take the robot seal Paro, which has been demonstrated in studies to improve social skills and mood, facilitate emotional expression, and bring down stress or anxiety. Another human-like robot called Pepper has been used in nursing homes to interact and socialize with residents.
There are definitely some significant considerations that our society must face when contemplating the advent of robots in caregiving, but it is clear that they have the potential to play a major role in the future.