If you are nearing retirement age, you have likely given a considerable amount of thought to the probability of needing someone to care for you as you get older. If so, you are certainly not alone in that concern. In the United States, we have a huge segment of the population that is likely to need caregivers in the near future. In fact, anyone entering the health care industry today is almost assured of job security in the future given the high demand for caregivers. What you may not know, however, is that there may be another solution to the caregiver shortage – robots. Yes, it may be robots taking care of you when you reach the point that an in-home caregiver is needed.
The Caregiver Shortage in America
By the year 2060, the 65-and-older age group’s share of the total population will rise to nearly 24 percent from its current 15 percent. A significantly longer life expectancy, coupled with the fact that the Baby Boomer generation is now moving into retirement, has created the current boom in the elderly population and corresponding need for additional caregivers. 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. Although you may not be aware of it, an interesting solution may be on the horizon. The use of robots as caregivers is something that has gained momentum in recent years. To find out how Americans feel about the idea of robots providing care, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey.
Are Americans Ready for Robot Caregivers?
The survey attempted to gauge participant’s response to the idea of a robot caregiver by asking them 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 is a snapshot of the results of the survey:
- A majority of Americans are unfamiliar with efforts to develop robot caregivers for the elderly: 65% say they have heard nothing at all about this topic, and only 6% have heard a lot about it.
- Although fewer than half of Americans are aware of the effort to develop robot caregivers, a majority (59%) view them as a realistic prospect – with 10% describing this concept as extremely realistic.
- 44% of Americans are at least somewhat enthusiastic robot development, while 47% express some level of worry.
- A majority of Americans (59%) say they would not be interested in a robot caregiver for themselves or a family member if given the opportunity. Another 41% say they would be interested in a robot caregiver if they had the chance.
- Around one-in-five (21%) feel that a robot caregiver would provide a better quality of care than is available today, especially in comparison to paid human caregivers: For example, one responded added “A robot would never fatigue, would never get emotional or angry. They have no ego, they would just care for the individual.” – 43-year-old woman
- 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: For example, one respondent added “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.” – 47-year-old woman
- Roughly one-in-ten respondents in this group (12%) are concerned about the chance that robots might make a mistake in caring for their loved ones, and another 6% argue that caregiving is a job for family and loved ones and should not be outsourced to a machine.
- Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Americans think robot caregivers would cause the elderly to feel more isolated. And a sizable portion of the public believes these robots would come to signify class differences: 42% think it likely that robot caregivers would only be used by people who could not afford a human caregiver.
- When asked if they 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, 48% of Americans respond in the affirmative. One-in-five (20%) say this added feature would make them feel worse about this concept, and the remaining 32% say it would make no difference to them one way or the other.
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