Loneliness is predicted to be another epidemic to sweep through the ranks of the growing elderly population. Great Britain has even proposed a Ministry of Loneliness to find ways to avoid increasing levels of isolation in their general population. Many communities already deal with this problem for the most isolated through faith based groups and old fashioned community outreach. In a world more and more dominated by electronic devices and connect tech as I call it, it seems ironic that the overall health of seniors can be at risk because of the lack of social contact.
As the shortage of potential workers for home elder care becomes more dire, I guess it is to be expected that the tech world is trying to reinvent what passes for in home care. The Ellique system, an AI unit that reminds the senior to practice for their bridge game, has now become the fodder for late night TV jokes. Having a unit that reminds you of appointments and answers simple knowledge based questions is not the same as real interaction. Algorithms are not spontaneous, only programmed best guesses. Needless to say a small talk to me/talk at you unit is not going to help with someone taking a shower safely or making a light meal or seeing hazards develop in the home.
So enter another candidate for home health care “worker” but from thousands of miles away. It is aimed at more medically complex high risk seniors who are still at home. They have a team which includes a tablet sized unit with a dog or cat avatar (who is a live person – 24/7 in another country) that monitors and coaches the senior. The cost is about $200 a month. The care “giver” in the Philippines make $2 an hour which is comparable to any other customer service rep job.
It is, I have to admit the most thought provoking approach I have heard of so far. The reviews are positive, care.coach is pioneering a game-changing innovation for aging and geriatric care that leverages the best of both human and technological capabilities.”
It has started on a small scale, they have only a dozen care givers in the Philippines who response by their voice to become the avatar voice the senior hears and relates to. That way I would guess, changes in shift or accents do not throw the senior off balance.
Something in this mix seems backward in that the seniors would respond better to an avatar then a real voice. Are they are trying to nurture attachments so the seniors will listen and act on advice from a consistent care giver? One of the more interesting claims is that even someone with dementia problems who will argue with an in person caregiver or family member, will not argue with the pooch or kitty on the screen.
Where are they going with all this? I am not not sure, but something has to happen to connect and draw in those who would lack any measure of human interaction. Maybe this is a away to bring social media of sorts to the generation that missed it. I do not know. Meanwhile, I will get back to rereading an old copy of 1984 and contemplate the future.