Artificial intelligence is here and senior technology is taking advantage. We have an ever-aging population and they are in need of consistent and competent health aides. In the United States, the healthcare industry employs over 4.5 million nursing aides and orderlies and home health aides and personal care aides. But it will not be enough to service the silver tsunami in this country. The United States Census Bureau found that “by 2030, all boomers will be at least age 65.” New solutions are being developed to meet the demand, and that means AI is front and center.
The National Science Foundation has provided a one million dollar grant to Brown University and Hasbro Inc. to develop furry animatronic and artificially intelligent cats and dogs to help seniors with their daily living activities. The project is called ARIES (Affordable Robotic Intelligence for Elderly Support), and in addition to providing support for daily tasks, these smart pets provide comfort and joy for the senior population, particularly those with mild dementia problems.
Some of the goals of the ARIES project include sensor systems that track important objects, including keys, glasses, pillboxes, etc. The smart creatures can also remind seniors to take their medication, etc. Communication between the smart companion and the senior will be fully developed so that gestures such as a nudge, or a purr will guide the user toward a lost object or reminder to take medication. The technology is currently a little pricey, but with all technology over time, the market for smart companions will become more competitive and drive the cost down. When these become more affordable, they will be available to provide assistance in daily living, emotional support, and help fight loneliness and isolation.
There are many other examples of corporate research and development for artificial intelligence to benefit the aging population. As the technology becomes more prevalent in senior care, ethical questions will need to be addressed. For example, if an elderly care robot is reminding their senior to take medication and the senior refuses to comply, what happens next? Without a system in place to notify care staff, the patient could simply ignore the reminder. What if the patient has dementia and immediately forgets what they were instructed to do? Will the smart companion be able to address this or will that feature make a senior confused and take their medication twice? Who gets in trouble if a diabetic patient is told not to have a high sugar content food but they ignore the warning? Will there ever be an appropriate time to use restraining measures on an elderly person who refuses to comply? What are the moral and legal precedents for this type of artificial intelligence/robotic interaction and what happens if someone gets severely hurt? All these questions and more will need to be addressed to provide the best care possible for our aging and disabled community members.
The future of artificial intelligence in senior care is promising but practical applications are currently limited. While the basic capabilities for in-home companion products are functional and marketplace ready, the more complex artificial intelligence smart systems are still in development. The aging population and their increasing needs will continue to drive this development forward.
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