Technology Catching Up to Needs of Seniors / by Anne Kreamer

Older people are stereotypically depicted as technophobes or out of it when it comes to the cutting edge and the new. But a recent article in ID magazine suggests that we 21st century elderly may have as much or more to gain as anyone from the high tech near future. Juanita Dugdale writes that "the next decades may prove to be the first time in history when it will be really interesting, if not downright cool, to grow old, especially for technophiles. Since 2000, the global race to develop high-tech solutions for problems challenging the elderly has accelerated, particularly where critical shortages of caregivers already exist, as in Asia."

She describes several products already on the market in Japan. "Paro is a robotic baby seal claimed by its inventor to soothe anxious nursing-home patients as effectively as traditional pet therapy...Ri-Man is an interactive robot resembling a giant soft toy that's able to lift an incapacitated patient, sense smells, follow sounds, and track faces."

In the U.S., hospitals are using Tug, a robotic indoor tracking system, and RP-7, a robot that "links off-site specialists with staff doctors at 21 Michigan hospitals around the clock." Carnegie Mellon is developing a robot called the Hug that the elderly could hold, like a plush toy, and receive gentle sounds and vibrations.

MIT has created an in-house group, AgeLab, that has "developed a spectrum of products and services intended to help seniors perform specific tasks better, such as continuing to drive safely, managing prescriptions, or make shopping decisions."

I do imagine all of us are thinking about how we can manage to age by being as slight a burden on our families as possible. I'd rather hug a person or a puppy than a robot any day of the week, but if that robot will also help me deal with the infirmities that I hope I live long enough to come my way, then I'll welcome any Jetsonian Rosie or Astro into my house with open arms. And while they take care of business, I can walk the real dog.