Robot Caregivers?

With a shortage of caregivers, some researchers and healthcare professionals are turning in a new direction: Robots. A recent Wall Street Journal  article discusses the value of Paro, a robot that looks like a baby seal. It's being tested on dementia and autism patients in long-term facilities, but could also be used at home. That is, if you have $6,000.

The Japanese-born Paro has a cry that sounds like a seal-we all know what that is, right?- weighs about the size of a human baby, and has internal heaters that put it in the ballpark of an infant's body temperature.

Paro is a smart guy, or gal. He/she has sensors to react to touch, light, and sound. It recognizes its name and the direction a person's voice is coming from. It responds to being stroked, petted and tickled under the chin.

Robots as companions and helpers for the ill and/or elderly are a relatively new concept. Paro inventor Takanori Shibata says research has proven that levels of cortisone, which is an indicator of stress, drop when dementia patients are with the robot.

The Japanese also have a caregiving robot dubbed Hospi-Rimo that debuted last year via Panasonic. The communication assistance robot lets bed-ridden patients at home or in a facility have virtual visits with physicians or far away family members. It can be controlled remotely or move autonomously.

Another Panasonic wonder: A hairwashing robot. Its 16 "fingers" can do a full beauty regimen: Wet an older person's hair, shampoo, rinse, condition and blow-dry!

In Japan, some robots feed patients and help the disabled move their limbs.

Hmmm, needless to say, these futuristic devices are pretty creepy and don't take the place of real, live Homo sapiens. They're not intended to, though. Think about it this way: Maybe a modern-day take on respite care? If they provide any kind of comfort, it may be to combat loneliness. And that can be useful.

With so many boomers and older Americans living alone-never married, widowed, and divorced-and families geographically dispersed, more robots may be marching into the healthcare realm.

What do you think? Would you consider trying one? Why yes? No?

Follow Sally Abrahms at www.sallyabrahms.com and on Twitter @sallyabrahms

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