Experts tell us the older population in the United States will more than double from the current 46 million to over 98 million by 2060. The average life expectancy has also nearly doubled in the U.S. over the last century. The combination of the two threatens our already overburdened healthcare system. A healthcare system that is struggling to provide quality care to the elderly now. It should come as no surprise that concerns are mounting about how we will be able to care for our elderly in the decades to come. One idea that appears to be a viable option is to use robots to care for the elderly. How would you feel about a robot caregiver? A recent survey asked people that very question and the answers may surprise you.
Demand Is Winning the Supply and Demand Game in the U.S.
The number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to more than double from 46 million today to over 98 million by 2060, and the 65-and-older age group’s share of the total population will rise to nearly 24 percent from 15 percent. The reason for the dramatic increase in the older population in the U.S. is twofold. First, the average life expectancy for an American has almost doubled over the last century due to advances in science and medicine and an overall increase in the standard of living in the country. Second, members of the Baby Boomer generation, made up of babies born after servicemen (and women) returned home from World War II, are now moving into their retirement years.
With an increase in the population of older Americans comes an increase in the number of caregivers needed to care for them. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that more than 800,000 new home health and personal care aides will be needed between 2014 and 2024 alone. Unfortunately, the basic nature of these jobs, which often couple heavy physical demands and risk of injury with relatively low wages and benefits, makes them difficult to fill and has led to concerns about an ongoing shortage in paid caregivers in the future.
How Do Americans Feel about Robot Caregivers?
The Pew Research Center recently released the results of a survey they conducted which attempted to gauge participant’s response to the idea of a robot caregiver. Respondents were asked to read and respond to the following scenario:
“Today, many older adults move into assisted living facilities when they can no longer live independently. In the future, people could be provided with a robot caregiver that would allow them to continue living in their own home as they age. This robot would be available 24 hours a day to help with household chores, test vital signs and dispense medication, or call for assistance in an emergency. It would also have conversational skills and could serve as a companion for people who live alone.”
The following are summarized highlights from the answers to questions asked of the participants:
- 65% say they have heard nothing at all about the idea of robot caregivers
- Only 6% have heard a lot about robot caregivers
- 59% view robot caregivers as a realistic prospect
- 10% described the concept as extremely realistic
- 44% of Americans are at least somewhat enthusiastic robot development
- 47% express some level of worry
- 38% of adults ages 50 and up say they are enthusiastic about the prospect of a robot caregiver
- 49% of 18- to 49-year-olds say they are enthusiastic about the prospect of a robot caregiver
- 59 % say they would not be interested in a robot caregiver for themselves or a family member if given the opportunity
- 41% say they would be interested in a robot caregiver if they had the chance.
- Men were more interested in a robot caregiver than women
- Whites and Hispanics were more interested than blacks
- Those who have attended or graduated from college were more interested than those who have not.
- 1 in 5 (21%) feel that a robot caregiver would provide a better quality of care than is available today, especially in comparison to paid human caregivers
- 15% of respondents feel that this type of robot would help older adults be more independent and remain in their homes for a longer period of time.
- Americans who would not be interested in a robot caregiver overwhelmingly mention one concept over all others: namely, that trusting their loved ones to a machine would cause them to lose out on an element of human touch or compassion that can never be replicated by a robot. Roughly half (54%) of these respondents mention this concept in one form or another.
- 12 % are concerned about the chance that robots might make a mistake in caring for their loved ones
- 7 in 10 think robot caregivers would allow younger people to feel less worried about taking care of aging relatives
- Almost 6 in 10 (59%) think this concept would make older adults feel more independent and self-sufficient.
- Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Americans think robot caregivers would cause the elderly to feel more isolated.
- 48% would feel better about the concept of a robot caregiver if there was a human who monitored its actions at all times via a camera
- 1 in 5 said human monitoring would make them feel worse about this concept
- 32% say it would make no difference to them one way or the other if the robot was monitored.
- 42% of those ages 18 to 29 said video surveillance would make them feel better.
In addition, participants were afforded the opportunity to leave comments further explaining or clarifying how they feel about the concept of robot caregivers. Of those in favor, the following comments illustrate why:
“A robot would never fatigue, would never get emotional or angry. They have no ego, they would just care for the individual.”
“Anything that promotes the independence of the elderly individual may be useful in a society where the extended family is increasingly distant or separate.”
“Long-term care is very expensive and most nursing homes are not where older people want to be. People like to stay in their own homes.”
Of those participants who were not as enthusiastic about the idea of robot caregivers, the following comments also offer a glimpse into why they feel that way:
“Human contact is vital. A robot cannot provide the personal chemistry, empathy, and meaningful relationship that a human can, especially to someone in physical and emotional need.”
“There is something inherently good and beneficial for human-to-human interaction, rather than human to robot interaction. Empathy is a big component.”
“Family needs to be taken care of by family. It’s part of our responsibility.”
Contact Elder Law Attorneys
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