July 20, 2014

Caring for the Elderly

I brought up Alone Together last night and recalled how skeptical I was about the emotional satisfaction that robots might provide, so I was struck by the by Louise Aronson's argument for robotic caregivers in The New York Times today

I can, and do, write prescriptions for her many medical problems, but I have little to offer for the two conditions that dominate her days: loneliness and disability. She has a well-meaning, troubled daughter in a faraway state, a caregiver who comes twice a week, a friend who checks in on her periodically, and she gets regular calls from volunteers with the Friendship Line.

It’s not enough. Like most older adults, she doesn’t want to be “locked up in one of those homes.” What she needs is someone who is always there, who can help with everyday tasks, who will listen and smile.

Aronson's solution, let robots do it, pales in comprison to Nora Johnson's explanation of why she regularly visits an ailing ex-husband in a different section of the same paper

“Why do you go visit him?” a friend asked. “How can you?”

“I do it for Justin,” I said. He is supposed to be in charge of things but lives 1,500 miles away. “And out of general humanity.”

“He doesn’t deserve it.”

“Probably not. But I feel sorry for him.”

The rehab place isn’t so bad, but the other patients don’t appear stimulating. They don’t speak English, or else they’re moribund in wheelchairs, their eyes staring and empty. He tells me his roommate is curled up in a ball, taken away during the day and delivered back at night, and neither talks nor reacts to anything.

He simply would like to talk politics or medicine or World War II with somebody, and that’s one reason I go. He can talk to me.

I don't want to wind up as either patient, but if I do, I know which caregiver I'd want.

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