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Robot & Frank – The Future of Elder Care?

A few years ago I wrote about a movie titled the Savages, which focused on the story of an elderly man suffering from dementia and his 2 children who were suddenly forced to care for him after his second wife had died.  Hollywood has just released a new movie that, perhaps, gives us a glimpse into the future of eldercare.

 “Robot and Frank” stars Frank Langella as an aging former thief.  He is cranky and not exactly loveable but his kids do their best to keep an eye on him as he is beginning to slow down in his 70’s.  His son brings him a talking robot, a VGC-60L model healthcare aide, that is designed to cook, clean and monitor his medications.  As many children have experienced with their parents when trying to bring aides into Mom or Dad’s home, Frank is no different when it comes to “robotic” help.  He resists it.

 I haven’t seen the movie yet but with a cast including Susan Sarandon, Liv Tyler and Peter Sarsgaard as the voice of the robot, the movie has gotten some pretty good reviews.  And it does raise the issue of whether technology can help solve the problem of long term care.  I am sure many family members who have taken on the role of caregiver, experiencing the resulting emotional, mental and physical drain, sometimes feel like robots.

 The Japanese have already been using robots to assist the elderly who are suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  These “nursebots” can lift patients and deliver breakfast in bed.  They are not yet ready, however, to assist with other activities of daily living such as feeding or dressing, but I am sure that technology will attempt to tackle that as well.

 The biggest challenge, however, may well be seniors’ reactions to robotic aides.  If Mom doesn’t adjust to a human coming into her home, how will she feel about a robot?  It doesn’t exactly evoke nostalgic memories from her childhood.  So, I don’t think home healthcare companies, assisted living facilities and nursing homes need to be concerned that they will be obsolete anytime soon and families will still need to look to traditional “human care” solutions for the foreseeable future.