When caregivers aren't human
Mary Gustafson, McKnight's Staff Writer
However, none of those topics were as stop-you-in-your-tracks bizarre as a nursing home meth lab fire or caregiving robots — topics I've written about for McKnight's with surprising frequency — especially the latter. If you can speak authoritatively about robots in social conversation, people tend to snap to attention.
And with good reason.
It's almost a given that the Japanese are ahead of the curve when it comes to adapting robotic technologies to nursing homes — after all, the United States isn't alone in preparing to care for a rapidly aging population. As of September 2011, Japan had nearly 48,000 people over the age of 100.
Japan's newest caregiving robot, Hospi-Rimo, is “designed to act as an intermediary to improve communication between patients who are bed-ridden or have limited mobility, for example, and other people, such as a doctor in another room or even in another city.”
Designed by Panasonic, it features a screen that displays a high-definition smiley face, not unlike an emoticon. Truly, service with a smile. ; - )
Even stranger, to me, is that Panasonic upgraded its hair-washing robot, which uses its 16 fingers to comfortably wet a senior's hair, shampoo, rinse, condition and dry.
Too basic for you? The robot's arms have sensors that remember each user's head size and their hair-washing preferences for their post-wash scalp massage.
I'm not sure which thought is more depressing — that such intimate acts as washing a person's hair have been turned over to androids, or that we need a new study to tell us that patients feel more satisfied with their care when a clinician talks to them while seated rather than standing.
Most competent caregivers know instinctively that having a good bedside manner involves, literally, sitting at a resident's side. Yet researchers say they were “shocked” when their data revealed as much.
Undoubtedly, direct caregivers have the most challenging job. I just hope they don't underestimate the power of a human touch. I'd take that over witty cocktail-party banter any day.