Post CES reflection on role of technology and Alzheimer's.
Boston, mid-May, 2016
Groundhog Day --the future resurfaces regularly. The UK media just discovered the granny pod, four years after a similar granny cottage concept appeared, And this new discovery comes three years after AARP discovered MedCottage, which AARP described as a portable alternative to nursing homes (seriously, folks?). Ditto on companion robots (including the ever-popular Paro) from the same UK article. Can you believe it? Companion robots are just around the corner, and the future is just ahead. Says the Financial Times writer: "People are living longer and the result, according to the UN, is that there will be two billion people aged over 60 worldwide by 2050." Let’s see, doth a projection 37 years from now a market make? Even if you buy that being over 60 constitutes a candidate customer for a MedCottage or companion robot (seriously?), it must be just too hard to find a number of how many would benefit today. That’s because caregiving robots of today are still in the experimental stage (even though nurses may prefer them to people).
The problems of today happen as regularly as the future is described. If you did have a MedCottage in the back yard, along with your full-time job, who is going to keep an eye on and respond to its resident? Who will check to see if the companion robot accidentally fell down the stairs or lost connection with the Internet? Well, maybe you’d want to hire a home care worker to check on Mom. Alas. Home care may be the last great aging services frontier – an industry with no regulation, high turnover, no consumer reviews, no constraint on the number of back-to-back assignments an agency can place. And in case I forget to mention it, this is an industry that not only doesn’t promote the use of robots – it does not promote any in-home camera technology – with the dominant technology use still being time-and-attendance software for telephone-based check-in and check-out, plus medical alert devices for care recipients.
Today we have recommendations about -- but no regulation of -- dementia care. Right behind home care in the wild west state of the art, stands the state-by-state regulated assisted living industry – where family members may supplement any limitations in staff with – you guessed it, that afore-mentioned private duty home care. Go ahead, check out a search for regulation of child day care, followed by the same search for regulation of dementia care in assisted living. While both fit into the state-by-state realm, the former is actually regulated. For the latter, there are only the linked recommendations.
Let’s see more investigative reporting about life today for the frailest seniors. In 2012, the Miami Herald was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for its assisted living investigative series Neglected to Death. And likewise, the California death in a Brookdale independent living community received plenty of misplaced and confused publicity. While folks are still alive, occasionally there are long articles like the New Yorker’s about dementia care, which is using a Green House approach to providing a less structured version of caring for individuals with Alzheimer's or other dementias. The writer of that article was startled into wondering about the care of her own mother-in-law...not previously considered. So wouldn't you like to see more reporters sit down and think about where they would like to be in their 80’s, where they would like their grandmother or aunt or father to be should they become too frail to care for themselves – and what they would consider to be great care if they or someone they loved had dementia. And let’s look for this great reporting about the present (both the positive and the negative), not the future, of aging to come from the journalists nominated for Age Beat fellowships. Why not?