Caregivers of all stripes are facing unprecedented stress, and technology offers solutions that can not only help alleviate their burden, but also raise the spirits of seniors this season. But technology’s adaptability and power is woefully underutilized.
Establish a triangle of care
To ease the burden on caregivers, consider creating a triangle of care, which includes professional support (like aides, providers, CNAs, etc.), family members and technology. At the center of the triangle, the senior should be the main focus.
Historically, the care triangle has just been a single line, including professional caregivers and family members. But technology has evolved significantly, and has a role to play on the care team. To protect the vulnerable seniors at the center and provide them with the love, support and attention they deserve this holiday season, we must also incorporate technology in our caregiving strategy.
There’s a misperception that older adults are unlikely to engage with or be open to technology products. But it’s shortsighted: 6 in 10 seniors are now online, and 77% own a cell phone. This misperception has made caregivers hesitate to lean on tech for any uses requiring involvement from the older adult. Caregiver tasks like communication, tracking health measures, or sorting pills can be helpful, but they tend to shy away from anything that requires the care recipient to engage with.
Studies show that it’s not that older adults aren’t interested in new technology. it’s that, often, products are not designed with them in mind. The caregiver and the care recipient often have drastically different needs, motivations, preferences, and abilities. If one is designing for older adults, things like visibility and contrast, ease of use and simple design, and a proactive approach versus an ambient product waiting for engagement are absolutely vital to adoption.
Allow technology to ease the burden
A few recent examples of products used by seniors include robotic pets, which have shown significant gains in helping seniors combat dementia and loneliness, and socially assistive robots designed to assist in non-clinical interventions like fitness, and social connectedness.
And it’s no secret that caregivers are in crisis: professional caregivers are facing thinning ranks and a burnt out workforce. Unpaid caregivers, who are generally adult children sandwiched between caring for aging parents and the demanding needs of young children, are stretched too thin. Japan predicts a shortage of 1 million caregivers by the year 2025. In the United States, the percentage of people who are 65 or older is predicted to rise 26% by 2050.
The unfortunate reality is that caregivers simply don’t have enough time to offer the amount of companionship and engagement that our older loved ones need and want. This is where robotics can step in to help.
For too long, our thinking on the role of technology in the caregiving sphere has been simplistic, or worse, the stuff of science fiction films. Robots will never replace humans. Computers will never be able to perform the critical, life changing work that nurses, aids and health care workers do. But there is immense value to technology, particularly in the form of highly empathetic and aware AI-powered technology.
Humans and AI can work together to provide a continuum of care. And caregivers should be embracing technology now as a critical tool in the face of a staffing shortage. This strategy addresses both practical daily needs, as well as the extremely human ones: compassion, motivation, and emotional support.
As the holidays approach, the greatest gift we can offer our seniors is a triangle of care.
Dor Skuler is CEO and co-founder of Intuition Robotics.