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Miranda Miller
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Are robots the answer to nursing home abuse and neglect?

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People are fallible. And right now, one of those fallible people may be giving Grandma the wrong medication, turning a blind eye to her bedsore, or letting your senile grandfather amble around the nursing home unsupervised. We’ve all heard or read the alarming statistics about nursing home abuse and neglect. So this month, a new movie, “Robot & Frank,” prompts the question: Are robots the answer?

In the sci-fi flick, Frank’s children become concerned that he can no longer take care of himself. Rather than move him into a nursing home, his son buys him a robot.

As Slate writer Thomas Rogers reported last Friday, Frank is skeptical. “That thing’s going to kill me in my sleep,” actor Frank Langella says.

Looking back through cinematic history, Frank’s fear is not unfounded. Numerous movies, including “Deadly Friend,” “Evolver,” and “Runaway,” have featured robots that were trained to kill humans. But these days, they have better things to do – like assemble cars, dismantle bombs, and explore sunken ships. And, according to the Slate article, Japan’s been employing “elder care robots” for over 10 years. Likewise, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University have collaborated on their own Nursebot Project in which robots:

  • follow senior citizens around to remind them to take their medicine and keep them from wandering off and getting lost;
  • act as a liaison between the patient and his or her healthcare provider;
  • do laundry and open microwave and refrigerator doors, which is no easy feat for someone with arthritis; and
  • serve as someone to talk to, since many elderly people don’t have family or friends to connect with on a daily basis.

Panasonic has reportedly created a robot that can wash a person’s hair. Teach it to dry, curl, and/or flat-iron, and I’ll buy one right now.

Kidding aside, I’m curious: Would you trust your loved one’s health and safety to a robot? Why or why not?