Robots in Elderly Care
Low birth rate and the long life expectancy represent an explosive mixture, resulting in the rapid aging of population. The costs of healthcare in the grey society are increasing dramatically, and soon there will be not enough resources and people for care. This context requires conceptually new elderly care solutions progressively reducing the percentages of the human-based care. Research on robot-based solutions for elderly care and active ageing aims to answer these needs. From a general perspective, robotics has the power to completely reshape the landscape of healthcare both in its structure and its operation. In fact, the long-term sustainability of healthcare systems could be addressed by automation powered by digital health technologies, such as artificial intelligence, 3D-printing or robotics. The latter could take over monotonous work from healthcare workers, which would allow them to focus more on patients and to have lesser workload. Robots might be used in elder care with several different aims. (i) Robots may act as caregivers, i.e. assist the elderly, (ii) they can provide remainders and instructions for activities of daily life and safety, and/or assist their carers in daily tasks; (iii) they can help monitor their behaviour and health; and (iv) provide companionship, including entertainment and hobbies, reminiscence and social contact. The use of Robots with human subjects/patients raise several sensitive questions. First of all, robots may represent information hubs, and can collect an incredible amount of data about the subjects and their environment. In fact, they record habits such as sleeping, exercising, third persons entering in the house, appointments. Communications may be continuously recorded. Moreover, by connecting with medical devices, they can store medical data. On one hand, this represents a very powerful tool to collect information about the single subject (precision medicine), about disease (thus eventually finding new signs and symptoms through artificial intelligence by machine learning and deep learning) and about his/her habitat. On the other, this powerful instrument may represent a dramatic treat to the privacy of the subjects and their caregivers. Therefore, robotics represents an ethically sensitive field. Care robotics bear the risk of reducing human contact, of increasing the objectification and loss of control of the elderly, of losing the privacy and personal freedom of the individual (especially when robots may perform restrictive interventions). Moreover, the use of robots in elderly care may raise in the risk of confusing between reality and appearance, with a potential risk of deception and infantilization of the elder.
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