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In the Midst of a Coming Elder Care Shortage, the Case for Robot Caregivers

Amanda Lenhart wrote for the Better Life Lab Channel on Slate about the positives and negatives of robots as caregivers for elders or other adults needing care.

An elderly woman nestles a white, fluffy baby seal in her arms. She murmurs happily to it, petting it and delighting as it responds to her touch and voice. This baby seal is a robot, a cuddly bot named PARO. And research suggests PARO has therapeutic value, calming and engaging agitated and anxious patients with memory loss. PARO, which can be seen in action on YouTube, is one of the earliest of the therapy bots. He arrived on the scene back in 2004. Since then, simpler, though still interactive, catbots (and dogbots) have democratized the world of therapy bots by bringing down the price to below $100.
Marianna Blagburn, program director at a memory care assisted living facility in Washington, D.C.,* talks about Sam, a telepresence robot the facility helped pilot at one of the broader network of sites affiliated with her memory care unit: “On our main campus nearby, they had a visiting robot—Sam. They were a beta site for the robot. The bot would come in and ask how people were doing. It was very well-received in that environment—it had value and people got a kick out of it.”