What do birthdays have to do with long-term care? Well, I’ve been having them long-term. And at this point, I’ve ceased to care.

You probably see that statement for what it is, nothing but bitter bluster. Of course I care. Everyone does. The problem is we all expect, and feel we deserve, to be treated like gods on our special day, or even for the entire month, and nothing anyone tries to do in our honor ever quite measures up. 

For instance, my birthday was Tuesday, a mere two weeks after nine co-workers went to great effort to dress as me for Halloween. But when it rolled around, all anyone did was tape a cheap cardboard banner on a string across my office door. If interest in celebrating me continues to decline at this precipitous rate, next year I’ll be lucky to get a Post-It note, with “Happy Birthday, Dear Occupant” scribbled hastily in Sharpie. 

Sad, is what it was. But it’s my own fault, for allowing unrealistic birthday expectations to be my emotional puppet master. Someday, I’ll finally be given the recognition I deserve on every anniversary of my emergence into the world. Not by other humans. I’ve given up on them.

I’m counting on robots. 

By my first birthday as a facility resident, I hope/believe automatons and androids will have advanced sufficiently to pick up the celebratory slack where people consistently fail me. And the word out of Australia is heartening on this front. 

According to McKnight’s, a new robot called Abi is being tested in 40 long-term care communities Down Under, and is reported to combine artificial intelligence with the ability to do physical tasks. It apparently leverages ChatGPT to become a more relatable companion, and also tells jokes, blows bubbles and leads tai chi courses. 

With all those skills already demonstrated, there’s absolutely no reason Abi can’t also be tasked with delivering the level of birthday praise and recognition I deserve and demand. Exhilarated by the possibilities, I’ve spent the past 10 exciting minutes exploring how ChatGPT could eventually provide the words I’ll desperately need my robot to say about me. 

“It’s my birthday,” I typed into the text box. “Tell me I’m great.”

“You’re absolutely great!” came the instant response on-screen. “Everyone has unique qualities and strengths, and I’m sure you possess many wonderful attributes. Keep being the amazing person that you are!”

Now that’s more like it, a sentiment no living person could ever be trusted to speak. But my robot will. 

“Does life have meaning at my age?” I continued.

“Remember that the quest for meaning is a journey, and it can evolve over time,” said my new ChatGTP friend and future robot mentor. “It’s okay not to have all the answers, and it’s normal for your sense of meaning to shift as you navigate different life stages. If you find that these questions are causing distress, consider discussing your thoughts and feelings with friends, family, or a mental health professional who can offer support and guidance.”

A little preachy perhaps, but still a helpful perspective, one I’m sure will be easier to accept coming from my robot, hopefully in the voice of James Earl Jones. 

Looking ahead to that first facility birthday, I know I’ll also wish to rise above this annual window of sanctioned narcissism to accomplish a greater good. So I ended the AI conversation by making an unselfish request. 

“As a birthday present to me,” I asked, “could you please solve the staffing crisis crippling the long-term care profession?

“I wish I had the power to directly solve real-world issues like the staffing crisis in the long-term care profession,” came the disheartening response. “Unfortunately, I don’t have the ability to implement practical solutions or enact policies.” 

Great. My robot is going to be just another politician. Next year, just string up that cardboard banner again, and forget I said anything. 

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a two-time national Silver Medalist and three-time regional Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program, as well as an Award of Excellence honoree in the APEX Awards. He’s been amusing, inspiring, informing and sometimes befuddling long-term care readers worldwide since the end of a previous century. He is a writer and video producer for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.

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