As you may already know, the number of older Americans (defined as age 65 and older) has been increasing at a heretofore unseen pace in recent years. In fact, experts tell us that the number of Americans is projected to more than double from 46 million today to over 98 million by 2060, and the 65-and-older age group’s share of the total population will rise to nearly 24 percent from 15 percent. For the first time in recorded history, the older population in the U.S. will outnumber its younger counterpart (those age 21 and younger). The increase in older Americans has already created a shortage of caregivers willing to care for them – and as the number of elderly continues to grow, that shortage will only become more problematic. What you may not know is that robot caregivers are being considered as a solution to the caregiver shortage. A recent survey looks at how Americans feel about robot caregivers for the elderly.
Would You Want a Robot Caregiver?
Americans are living longer; yet, the physical and mental deterioration that occurs as part of the natural aging process still begins at roughly the same age as it always has, meaning we need more caregiver for the elderly and we need them for a longer period of time. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that more than 800,000 new home health and personal care aides will be needed between 2014 and 2024 alone. Providing care for the elderly, however, is not the most attractive job given the risk of injury and physical demands of the job and that low pay typically offered to elderly caregivers. One solution is to use robot caregivers. To find out how Americans feel about that idea, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey. Data was compiled based on participants being asked to envision the following scenario:
“Today, many older adults move into assisted living facilities when they can no longer live independently. In the future, people could be provided with a robot caregiver that would allow them to continue living in their own home as they age. This robot would be available 24 hours a day to help with household chores, test vital signs and dispense medication, or call for assistance in an emergency. It would also have conversational skills and could serve as a companion for people who live alone.”
After reading and contemplating that scenario, survey participants were asked a series of questions related to the idea of robot caregivers. The following data gives us a glimpse into how people in the U.S. feel about the idea:
- 65% say they have heard nothing at all about the idea of robot caregivers
- Only 6% have heard a lot about robot caregivers
- 59% view robot caregivers as a realistic prospect
- 10% described the concept as extremely realistic
- 44% of Americans are at least somewhat enthusiastic robot development
- 47% express some level of worry
- 38% of adults ages 50 and up say they are enthusiastic about the prospect of a robot caregiver
- 49% of 18- to 49-year-olds say they are enthusiastic about the prospect of a robot caregiver
- 59 % say they would not be interested in a robot caregiver for themselves or a family member if given the opportunity
- 41% say they would be interested in a robot caregiver if they had the chance.
- Men were more interested in a robot caregiver than women
- Whites and Hispanics were more interested than blacks
- Those who have attended or graduated from college were more interested than those who have not.
- 1 in 5 (21%) feel that a robot caregiver would provide a better quality of care than is available today, especially in comparison to paid human caregivers
- 15% of respondents feel that this type of robot would help older adults be more independent and remain in their homes for a longer period of time.
- 8% of respondents like the fact that this type of robot caregiver would always be available in the event of an emergency
- 5% each feel it would offer a cost savings compared with traditional forms of caregiving, or that it would give older adults a feeling of safety or security.
- Americans who would not be interested in a robot caregiver overwhelmingly mention one concept over all others: namely, that trusting their loved ones to a machine would cause them to lose out on an element of human touch or compassion that can never be replicated by a robot. Roughly half (54%) of these respondents mention this concept in one form or another.
- 12 % are concerned about the chance that robots might make a mistake in caring for their loved ones
- 6% argue that caregiving is a job for family and loved ones and should not be outsourced to a machine.
- 7 in 10 think robot caregivers would allow younger people to feel less worried about taking care of aging relatives
- Almost 6 in 10 (59%) think this concept would make older adults feel more independent and self-sufficient.
- Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Americans think robot caregivers would cause the elderly to feel more isolated.
- 42% think it likely that robot caregivers would only be used by people who could not afford a human caregiver.
- 56% think it likely that many older adults would treat their robot caregivers like a human friend.
- 48% would feel better about the concept of a robot caregiver if there was a human who monitored its actions at all times via a camera
- 1 in 5 said human monitoring would make them feel worse about this concept
- 32% say it would make no difference to them one way or the other if the robot was monitored.
- 55% of those ages 65 and older say this type of video surveillance would make them feel better about the concept of robot caregivers
- 42% of those ages 18 to 29 said video surveillance would make them feel better.
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