How AI Could Provide a Solution to the Caregiving Gap

The baby boomer generation is rapidly reaching retirement age and beyond. Soon, they will need care, which is already a struggle to provide. A lot of things are different from previous generations, including more people having busy lives, women being a strong part of the workforce and many elderly people lacking children or other immediate family members. Creativity is becoming a must.

People will need to be taken care of, but many of those will want to continue living in their homes with some independence. With caregiving providers being short-staffed, the answer may come in technology. Artificial intelligence, or AI, may be able to help those needing care in the near future.

According to a study from Merrill Lynch, there are 34 million people providing about $500 billion in free care annually. The free care comes from family members, like children, but the number of frail adults without kids is projected to double by 2040. As for now, about 117 million Americans will need care by 2020.

The wave of short-staffing comes predominantly from low wages. The reward for being a caregiver does not outweigh the troubles that come with the job, especially if people also have someone to care for at home. Meanwhile, more clients require care every year.

The Future of Technology

A lot of AI-based technology is still new or in development. With any luck, these machines will be available for use by the time baby boomers need the help. Those who need care find themselves requiring different levels of aid, so the AI techniques are varied.

Joy for All is a robotic cat being developed by Hasbro and Brown University to help people find items, provide reminders and even give comfort. Pearl is a mobile robot designed by universities as part of the Nursebot Project to provide assistance for those with cognitive impairment.

ELLI.Q from Israel’s Intuition Robotics is another option. It will offer suggestions for entertainment and activities while also acting as another reminder and companion.

While there are a lot of ideas in development, none of these can help right now. However, the present is not fruitless. There are a few technologies currently being implemented to help with the caregiving process.

Technology Now

For those who have no family members to lean on but want to age independently, there’s already help out there. Technology and AI have come far enough to act as reminders to people and can also provide other services. For instance, some of the best virtual assistants can answer questions and provide health information.

GPS tracking and alerting devices can also come in handy. However, there is also technology available for sensing the state of health remotely. In-home sensors can alert family members to strange or abrupt changes to daily routines.

AI can also fold laundry, dispense pills or help people get in and out of bed. The options grow from little to quite large when independence is on the line.

Kenguru cars give wheelchair-bound people who are able to drive the option to do so. They can also move from the car to a wheelchair without any extra attachments installed by allowing them to enter the vehicle from the back hatch.

AI provides more than just equipment for caregiving. There are over 250,000 deaths annually from misdiagnoses. AI can be more thorough and provide a much lower rate of misdiagnoses than a human doctor by using data and the patient’s current vitals. By adding more to medicine, AI can help lessen the need for caregivers in the future.

To Be Human

The obvious problem with relying solely on AI to care for the elderly is the lack of human intervention. As much as a machine can mimic a person, there is no replacement for another human’s comfort. However, the solution may not be negotiable. Understaffed facilities are hardly more humane. Better technology and wages for those providing care may be the best incentives to grow the caregiving industry.

Written by Kayla Matthews
Kayla Matthews writes about medical technologies and news developments for publications like The Week, BioMed Central and Kareo's Go Practice Blog. To read more posts by Kayla, visit her on Twitter @KaylaEMatthews or check out her website: http://productivitybytes.com.

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