The Future of Old Age

I want a care robot for my old age. I don’t mean those fake animals and devices that coo at you to take your meds, like The New York Times wrote about recently. Those sound patronizing and highly annoying.

What I want is a robot under my control that can help me take care of myself. If I need help getting out of bed or going to the bathroom or taking a shower, I want a robot that can do that. I’d also like one that can help me prepare meals, because I’d like to have control over what I eat as long as possible.

And, given that I am not very domestic, I definitely want one to do the housework. (In fact, I’d like one of those right now, please.)

The key words in all this are “under my control,” because the value I can see in a robot as compared to person doing these services is that I would be able to keep my independence. I wouldn’t have to argue with the caregiver if I wanted cereal for dinner or to skip the shower, and I wouldn’t have the humiliation of having another person help me in the bathroom.

This is not because I want to be a recluse. It’s because I want to keep my current kind of interactions with other people instead of conflating those interactions with personal services. I want conversations both serious and playful. I want to hug and hold the people I love. And I want to do it on my own terms, just as I do now.

This is, of course, assuming that my ailments in old age are physical ones that still leave me competent to make those decisions. I do not think care robots would be appropriate if I develop dementia or if I suffer from pain or other debilitating conditions that affect my reasoning. In those cases, I would need another person to make decisions for me.

And also in those cases, I would need caregivers around for the human contact, even if I couldn’t relate to them the way I relate to others now.

What I’m getting at here is reserving the human-provided care for those who truly need it, and coming up with robots that can help others age with independence. For example, I have some arthritis. Right now it’s not limiting, but I can see the possibility that it will be some day.

I’m fantasizing about everything from exoskeletons to a very strong android that, when told to, can lift me out of bed and take me to the toilet. I want mechanical devices under my control.

That sort of robot doesn’t exist yet, of course. However, there are useful devices developed for disabled people, such as the variety of wheelchairs available, that lay the groundwork.

It seems to me that if we developed good robotic devices for those of us who lose physical capacities as we get older, we can save the care by humans for those who truly need that.

Robots would eventually be relatively low in cost, which would mean we could pay the people who provide hands-on care something close to what they’re worth (and pay them regardless of whether they’re a member of the family giving up their other work to do this or a professional who does this as a job). I’d like to see both the robot care and the human care funded by Medicare.

While I suspect this could be good for a lot of people, I’m not really thinking in societal or futuristic or science fictional terms. I’m thinking personally.

I can conceive of needing help as I age. As long as I’m competent, I’d like to be in control of that help. I bet a good robot would be a whole lot easier to control than a human being who believes they’re doing something for your own good.

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The Future of Old Age — 5 Comments

  1. hear hear. Especially paying family members who step up. (This is vital to me not only for my own arthritis, which is getting to the serious stage, but both of us have parents with severe dementia/Alzheimer’s)

  2. Agreed, and automated help has gradually been coming for generations.

    But old people *also* need to interact. My 92 year-old mother would be much better off if she was forced to eat with everybody else. She likes to brag to the helpers she gets and complain about the helpers she gets. Robots won’t give the social contact she needs.

    To keep living—physical, mental, and social exercising are necessary.

    • I very much agree about the social contact. It’s vital. I can just conceive of being unable to do a lot of things for myself but still able to spend time with friends. And the main reason I want to be able to cook for myself as long as I can is not that I don’t enjoy socializing over meals. it’s that the meals in most senior living facilities are typical US food: bland, not enough whole grains, too much sugar, and badly cooked vegetables.

  3. That sounds like a great idea. Humans for interaction and robots for the stuff that isn’t so pleasant for humans to do, and for the things which, since I did this for the first part of my working life, the bad back and bad knees I have now.