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A Labour of Love: Exploring New Ways to Care for the Elderly

When reading the story of Roy Warren caring for his 92-year-old wife, it’s difficult not to become overwhelmed with emotion—this is no different for those of us at Home Care Assistance – Toronto/York Region. Roy and his wife, Tamera, live in Kitchener, Ontario and have been married only 12 years—a short period of time relative to their age. When Tamera became ill shortly after the wedding, losing her vision and becoming bedridden, Roy became her primary caregiver. And although he does receive some respite care during the weekdays, he is left on his own during evenings and over weekends to care for his ailing wife.

Roy describes caring for his wife as a “labour of love,” one that is both difficult and satisfying. Changing Tamera’s diapers and bathing her are some of Roy’s duties—duties he says that can, at times, leave him edgy and impatient. But Tamera dreads going to a nursing home and Roy will not dishonour her wishes no matter how difficult the day-to-day responsibilities are.

Roy is certainly thankful for the help that he currently receives, but it brings to light a bigger question: how will we keep up with the needs of an aging population? And a rapidly aging population, at that? According to a 2013 U.N. report, the number of people over 60 is expected to double by 2050, from its current figure of 817 million to over two billion. And with funds to standard health care decreasing, it seems more and more people are already turning to home care as an alternative.

But can the number of home caregivers keep up with the demand? In Canada, specifically, the number of caregivers has increased by only four percent in the last decade, from eight percent to 12%. And with the large majority of elders preferring to stay at home to receive care, Canada is considering a unique approach to elder care in the future, namely robots.

It may seem like a farfetched idea at first, but Japan has already implemented this plan with successful results. A communication robot named Unazuki Kabochan was created to improve the cognitive functions of seniors. It appears as little more than a small doll less than 30 centimetres tall, but is highly intelligent, with the ability to speak, sing, respond to touch and sound, and react to the senior in eight different ways. The robots also have a memory and can express facial expressions of surprise and happiness.

While Canada is still in the early phases of consideration, the goal of the robot would be twofold. One is as a means of company or entertainment, acting as a source of comfort and conversation for lonely seniors. The other function would be to assist human caregivers in daily tasks such as getting seniors out of bed, changing diapers, and administering medicine.

Overall, it does seem like a lot to digest; a toy-sized robot meant to forge a relationship with an aging human. But at the foundation of this lies the principle belief that seniors want to be comfortable and cared for in a familiar environment. They want attention, and the robot offers this attention much in the same vein as a pet. And if these robots can assist caregivers and improve the lives of elders in any way, then it must be seriously considered.

Home Care Assistance – Toronto/York Region has long been aware of the need for elder care at home. We’ve recognized that seniors want to live out their days among people they love and who love them. People like Roy are not rare and will become even more prevalent as the population continues to age. We need to continue to find ways to meet the demands of seniors in a respectful and effective manner, and at Home Care Assistance – Toronto/York Region we do both.

Sources:

Sasagawa, E., “Thanks to my Grandma’s Robot,” The Tyee.ca, June 9, 2014; http://thetyee.ca/ArtsAndCulture/2014/06/09/My-Grandmas-Robot/.

Abid, R. “Labour of Love: Canada Sees Increase in Elderly Caregivers,” CTV News web site, May 11, 2014; http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/labour-of-love-canada-sees-increase-in-elderly-caregivers-1.1817090.

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Brian Shevel

I was born in South Africa in a city called Bloemfontein. Went to Christian Brothers College (CBC) finished High school there. I went into business with my father we had a wholesale selling cloths and shoes to retail stores around the country. I was in the business till I left for Canada in 1993. Was a past president of Bnai Brith and served on many other committees. In Canada worked in the computer software industry selling construction software. I was always involved helping the elderly as my mother was very involved and I went along with her. Also looked after my father as he aged. Helped as a volunteer with seniors. Add me to your G+