April 13, 2004
Automation Seen As Solution To Aging Population
Automation could solve the huge and growing need for human labor to take care of growing elderly populations.
Advocates see robots serving not just as helpers - carrying out simple chores and reminding patients to take their medication - but also as companions, even if the machines can carry on only a semblance of a real dialogue.
The ideal results: huge savings in medical costs, reduced burdens on family and caretakers, and old and sick people kept in better health.
"This technology is really needed for the global community," said Russell Bodoff, executive director at the Center for Aging Services Technologies in Washington, D.C. "If you look 30 years out, we have what I would call a global crisis in front of us: that we will have many more aging people than we could ever deal with."
Japanese elderly are being cleaned by automated human washing machines.
MACHIDA, Japan- With an electronic whir, the machine released a dollop of "peach body shampoo," a kind of body wash. Then, as the cleansing bubbling action kicked in, Toshiko Shibahara, 89, settled back to enjoy the wash and soak cycle of her nursing home's new human washing machine.
Some argue for immigration to supply workers to care for a growing population of the aged. But in order for that solution to work in the short term the immigrants must be so numerous to drive their wages down to the point that their wages are low enough to be affordable by elderly on fixed incomes. But if their wages are that low two problems immediately become apparent:
- Care workers for the elderly whose wages are low enough to be affordable by the elderly (or to the governments that will pay for their care) will have to have incomes so low that they will pay little in taxes. Therefore they will have to be subsided by higher income workers for their own health care, education, and other services.
- Low wage workers will pay little into retirement funds. Therefore when they retire there will not be sufficient funding to pay for their own care. Use of imported low waged workers ends up becoming a financial pyramid scheme.
If import of cheap labor is not a viable solution then there are only two cost-effective solutions to the financial problems caused by aging populations:
- Automate the care of the elderly. Automation reduces the need for human labor and there is no limit to how far it can drive down costs.
- Slow and even reverse aging. This is the far more powerful solution since it solves the underlying problem. Plus, it will cause the economy to grow. If people can stay younger longer then they can work, support themselves, and pay taxes for more years.
It is pretty simple. Either we need to eliminate the use of human labor to take care of the elderly or we need to stop the transformation of younger bodies into elderly bodies. Now me, I prefer the second option (and I hope you do too). But since the development of rejuvenation therapies may take two or three decades it makes sense to also pursue the first option to reduce costs in the short and medium term. But since the projected costs of taking care of the elderly are going to become so huge it would also be very cost-effective to spend more on biomedical research aimed at developing rejuvenation therapies.
Human washing machine? I bet if it feels nice there will be a market for that outside of elder hostels too!
It will probably be a few years yet though before Aibo can change grandma's diaper. Every little bit helps though.
Bruck, One of the big advantages of the human washing machine is in the manner that it automates the loading of the person into it. It eliminates the need for strong attendants who are capable of lifting an elderly person into a bathtub. The task is difficult and prone to accidents if someone slips.
Then there's Option Three:
What about another option. Allow terminal patients to choose to die with dignity and respect. I don't know any elderly people who what to be a burden on their family, or who want to spend their entire saving just to prolong their death.
Consider that many of the problems of the elderly are shared by large groups of medically ill patients who also need to be cleansed. As long as the patient doesnot require isolation from water, this could be of use. As to "choosing to die with dignity and respect"; the potential for someone other than the patient making the choice is extreme, and age wasn't considered an illness the last time I looked.
The solution to the problem of aging is not automation.
The solution is to find out why we age and to develop a cure for aging. This seems quite obvious to me. I don't understand why this is so hard for others to understand.
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