Home Robots Can Enable Our Quixotic Vision for the Future of Aging

aging in place technology In a sweet and clever 2012 sci-fi movie, Robot & Frank, Frank, an older retired jewel thief, is given a domestic robot by his son, Hunter. Hunter’s an adult with a family of his own and a full-time job. He gives Frank as much care and attention as he can, but sometimes it wears him thin, and he’s reluctant to have his father move to assisted living. Enter: Robot. Frank is initially put off by having this odd machine around, but soon Frank & Robot are as inseparable as Batman and Robin, pulling hilarious heists that include stealing a copy of Don Quixote from the local library—a witty move by the screenwriters. Couldn’t Frank’s home robot be the Sancho Panza to Frank’s Quixote, dealing patiently with the knight’s romantic suspirations, his sermons on the glories of antiquated knighthood (or in Frank’s case, cat burglary)? Someday, will we all have a witty robotic squire to stand by our side and assist us with our daily lives?

Jake Schreier, director of the film, notes that he believes technology is “not bad or good but it will change the way we relate to each other. There’s no stopping it.”1 With technology seemingly moving at the pace of a bullet train these days, families now have to really consider the possibility of integrating robotics into their home care for older loved ones, and come to an agreement with their relatives about how comfortable they are with robots. Ideally, we can reach a point where we reap the benefits of having a home robot to supplement care and provide assistance to older adults, without making them feel discomfited by the strangeness of a machine (or setting them off on a crime spree of book-stealing and jewel thievery with their new Sancho Panza).

Can I Really Own a Robot? What’s on the Market?

There is actually a wide range of home robots and robotic aids available now that serve as a home “concierge” for older adults. As the technology becomes more affordable, you’re likely to see even more options in coming years, including models that are priced for the average family. For an idea of what this technology is going to look like, we can check out Luvozo’s SAM robot: this in-home “concierge” offers routine check-ups, hands-free phone and video, environmental hazard assessments (checking for things that may cause a senior to fall), and providing on-demand connections with off-site healthcare and emergency services. Companies like Jobi are also designing their robots to feel social, offering a friendly interface for seniors.

Essentially, the reason you’d invest in a robot is to supplement your care and provide your loved one with healthcare and emergency assistance when you can’t be available. Just like any gadget from a wheelchair to a fall alert system, it’s just ‘there to be there when you can’t.’ It doesn’t replace the love and care that you can give, it just makes that care more available, around the clock.

Embracing the Potential of Home Robots

Don Quixote lives in a world where his dreams are a reality, and the knightly stories of yore weave seamlessly into his everyday life. In a way, robotics engineers are both “dreaming and weaving”—taking our hopes and dreams for the future of aging and weaving them into our daily lives. That’s always been the ideal goal of high-tech gadgets—just look at your smartphone. Wouldn’t it be great to share your daughter’s first birthday with her grandmother who lives three states away? Well, now you can. Likewise, new technologies for caregiving, like home robots, have enormous potential to take our dream of an empowered and independent retirement and make it possible with technological assistance.

This has the potential to ease the burden on caregivers and improve the health of older adults—possibly even to alleviate the effects of loneliness. But before we can reap those benefits, we have to find a way to comfortably integrate these tools into our lifestyle. Whether you’re investing in a new phone, an electric fall-alert button, or even a home robot concierge, be sure that you and your loved one make the choice together when you opt for new technology. Anything from the beep of one gadget compared to another, or the color of the surface can make a difference in how they feel. Consider where it will go in their house, and make sure it has a user-friendly interface. You want to maintain an open dialogue with your loved one before and after investing in new healthcare tools, to make sure they feel comfortable interacting with the device. Don’t hesitate to check in and see how they like it, and whether or not they need additional help understanding the functions or controls. It might just take a little warming-up to. Even Frank was wary of his little sidekick before they set off on their spree of adventures.

IOA offers resources like senior counseling and home care, and we can help seniors and their caregivers incorporate technology into their care routine in a way that you both feel good about. Contact us to learn more about our services.

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  1.  Wortham, Jenna (August 10, 2012). “From the Future, a Subtle Spark of Recognition In ‘Robot & Frank,’ Technology of the Not-So-Distant Future on Display”. The New York Times. Retrieved September 9, 2012.
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Institute on Aging

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