As people grow older, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep up with their younger relatives. And in the contemporary lifestyle where people are rushing from one place to another be it for work or personal matters, it becomes even harder to the elderly to catch up as well as for the younger generation to make time for their parents and elders. This can result in the elderly becoming socially isolated from their children and grandchildren due to the younger generation not being able to have time to care for them or talk to them.
For younger generations being urban, born and raised surrounded by technology, they are accustomed to the fast pace of society, resulting in a potential lack of patience for anything that moves slowly. The elderly are unable to keep up with the new generation, resulting in increasing social division between the younger and older generation, creating a distance between their families. In addition, with technology rapidly advancing, there have been less visitations for the elderly to anticipate resulting in increased loneliness, according to the news published in 2011 by Martin Beckford in Telegraph.co.uk .Lack of visitorsWith all the information quickly being stored in the network, many public services have gone online, such as paying bills, calling for public transport, as well as ordering groceries online (Martin Beckford, 2011).
There is even an online monitoring system to check on a elderly person’s health to prevent the need to see a doctor in person for a check up. Therefore, the elderly are rarely required to stress their aging bodies to venture out of their homes as most services can be found on the Internet. However, elderly folk who are incapacitated or wheelchair bound receive less interaction that is accompanied with going to supermarket to buy groceries or to the clinic to see a doctor.
Such interactions may be the only source of socialization they have. Along with the decrease in cognitive abilities that comes with aging, they cannot pick up certain things as fast as the younger generation such as the familiarity of using computers and the Internet resulting in the difficulty of accessing these online services with ease. This results the elderly to become lonely as they have no one to communicate with. Should they even choose to be sent to nursing homes for the benefit of healthcare and increased interaction with other elderly occupants, the feeling of social isolation remains(Janice Tai, Tong Yong Chuan, 2016).The use of computers and digital devices in social interactionStudies have found that it is possible to relieve the elderly of social isolation once they learned the basics of using computers and other digital devices, to stave off loneliness and boredom. From on an online article on Computers in Human Behavior from Science Direct, the findings feature surprisingly positive results that digital devices such as computers and social media have the potential to alleviate elderly social isolation and loneliness (Pouria Khosravi, Azadeh Rezvani, AnnaWiewiora, 2016). The very technology that has caused a social isolation between the younger members of society has helped the older generation to reconnect and socialize with their family members, especially those who live far away and visited them less, resulting in decrease levels of loneliness and boredom within the older adults. Through the use of Internet and email, the senior population are provided a means to interact with their family members who are unable to see them face to face, as well as providing them a way to seek information on certain public services.
This not only results in a reduction in social isolation and boredom but also a slower decline in cognitive abilities. However, this would only apply to those who are digitally literate. For those who are not as familiar with the use of digital technology, and are lacking in knowledge of social activities that can only be found online, their means of interaction with others are limited. This would lead to increase in social division not just between family members but also between those who are literate and illiterate in computers (Rowena Hill, Lucy R. Betts, Sarah E. Gardner, 2015). Furthermore, social media has greatly benefited the older population, especially those with loss of mobility and changes in lifestyle due to old age, as they are able to maintain social connectedness with their own elder peers as well as their younger family members, increasing social inclusion.
The use of face to face communication via, as an example, Skype video chat, also adds to this effect. However, again the benefit could only apply to those who would willingly use, and are accustomed to digital technology. For those who are anxious and afraid of using technology due to costs, reliability and security issues, the social divide will only widen as they would be unable to maintain their social contacts with others and participate in social activities (Tracy L. Mitznera et al., 2010). Once elderly have been properly introduced, and familiarize with the usage and benefits of technology will they be able to sustain contact and therefore increase their social inclusion and wellbeing.The use of AI robots as emotional support for the elderlyRecently the world’s elderly population has been rising. According to a news release published by National Institute of Health in 2016, estimation that the percentage of older adults, aged 65 and above is projected to double the current percentage by 2050.
Because of the increase in elderly population, healthcare for the elderly is stretched thin and a large number of specialists for elderly care will be needed. Due to elderly prefering to reside in their own homes, they are mostly left living alone without any family members caring for them and this can lead to loneliness and social isolation. And this can lead to depression which can result in death before their time in worse case scenarios. In order to counter this, there have been suggestions to introduce the use of robots for therapeutic purposes. Fig 2.3 An elderly at a nursing home interacting with PARO via stroking its furTherapeutic robots like PARO and Hasbro’s ‘Joy for all Companions’ developed for the elderly in both nursing homes and their own respective residences are able bring out positive results from the elderly, as benefits provided by engaging with the robot were similar to that of animal therapy. Whilst live pets required the care and sustenance that elderly may not be able to give, robotic pets do not require those whilst constantly engaging with the elderly and simulating unconditional love and care to the elderly, prompting them to care and nurture them in return as they spoke to the robots and stroke their fur. Many positive remarks were stated on how the robots help to combat the loneliness of the elderly people by letting them care for the robotic pets that responds whenever they hear the users talking to them or stroking them.
However some ethical issues were raised and discussed as it had been stated that ‘in the moment of apparent connection between the user and the robot, a moment that comforted her, the robot understood nothing. She experienced intimacy with another, but she was in fact alone’ (Turkle, 2012). By allowing robots to nurture and care for the elderly, the younger generation are subjecting the elderly to programmed empathy as the robots have no genuine emotions or care for the elderly and are only simulating it. It may not necessarily be a negative aspect, as the robots can encourage the elders to socially interact with it, as well as with others if they were to reside in a nursing home.
However, it may lead to them depending on it in order ease their loneliness, preferring their company to that of other people. Arguments have also been raised on the belief that these robots might replaced human caregivers. However there have been no official statements of such drawbacks to the use of therapeutic robots impacting the elderly and their caregivers. In fact, it has been said that robots may actually help caregivers interact with their elderly patients better than before.