Robots May Soon be Helping with Caregiving Issues

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Over the weekend, Dad and I watched a very thought-provoking movie, Robot & Frank. The plot of the 2012 movie, which stars Frank Langella, James Marsden, Liv Tyler and Susan Sarandon, is described by the movie’s website as, “Set in the near future, Frank, a retired cat burglar, has two grown kids who are concerned he can no longer live alone. They are tempted to place him in a nursing home until Frank’s son chooses a different option: against the old man’s wishes, he buys Frank a walking, talking humanoid robot programmed to improve his physical and mental health. What follows is an often hilarious and heartwarming story about finding friends and family in the most unexpected places.”

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    It was interesting to watch for several reasons. First of all, Frank (played by Langella) is suffering some cognitive impairment but is striving to continue to remain independent. Secondly, it was thought-provoking to see the family dynamics as his grown children (played by Marsden and Tyler) try to solve the increasingly burdensome caregiving dilemmas that crop up while trying to live their busy lives in other locations. And finally, I was intrigued to see what could potentially happen when a talking robot is thrown into the caregiving equation.

    Watching that movie got me wondering -- are robots a possibility for the future of caregiving? Based on what I learned in researching this sharepost, it definitely looks like it. A 2009 study out of France surveyed 30 caregivers about the requirements they would want as far as a robot’s functions and modes of action.  Their findings were that caregivers had a positive attitude toward robots providing caregiving support.

    And a new study out of Georgia Institute of Technology looked at what nurses and nursing assistants think about robotics and caregiving. The researchers found that more than 50 percent of healthcare providers who were interviewed said they would prefer a robotic helper over a human. However, the providers were specific about what they would want the robots to do. For instance, instrumental activities of daily living such as housework and reminding patients when to take medication) got a thumbs up. Nurses also believed a robot assistant would be better as far as lifting a patient from a bed to a chair and also for checking the patient’s vital signs. However, activities of daily living that involved direct physical interactions (such as bathing, getting dressed and feeding people) were deemed better for humans to handle (instead of a robot).

    “One open question was whether healthcare providers would reject the idea of robotic assistants out of fear that the robots would replace them in the workplace,” said Dr. Tracy Mitzner, the associate director of Georgia Tech’s Human Factors and Aging Laboratory and one of the study’s lead researchers. “This doesn’t appear to be a significant concern. In fact, the professional caregivers we interviewed viewed robots as a way to improve their jobs and the care they’re able to give patients.”

  • And what do the people who need care think? A 2012 study out of Georgia Tech found that people who need caregiving help would accept robots’ help, unless the tasks involved personal care or social care. The researchers showed a video to adults between the ages of 65 and 93 that depicted a robot’s capabilities. The researchers then asked the study participants about whether they’d be willing to have help from the robots.

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    The response was that participants would willingly have the robot help with chores such as cleaning the kitchen, doing laundry and taking out the trash. However, they would prefer human help with getting dressed, eating, bathing, and socializing (such as entertaining guests). The participants also were comfortable with robots reminding them to take medications, but wanted a human to help them decide which medication to take.

    Based on these studies, we may be seeing robots such as the one depicted in Robot & Frank helping with caregiving for older individuals who have cognitive impairment in the not-too-distant future.

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Faucounau, V., et al. (2009). Caregivers requirements for in-home robotic agent for supporting community-living elderly subjects with cognitive impairment. Technology and Health Care.

    Georgia Tech. (2012). Robots in the home: Will older adults roll out the welcome mat?

    Georgia Tech. (2013). How would you like your assistant – human or robotic?

Published On: April 30, 2013