Is There A Robot In Your Future?

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Me and My Mom

Me and My Mom

According to the Population Reference Bureau, by 2050, the elderly population is estimated to be 16 % of the global population. That’s 1.5 billion of us, over the age of 65, tottering about, needing health care, doctors, nurses, and other caregivers to help us navigate our dotage.

When a first child is born, he or she does not come with an instruction booklet.  Parents learn how to care for their new baby through advice from friends and relatives, and plain old experience.  When the child’s parents start aging and ailing, the kid is in the same boat that the parents  were in when they first arrived.  Unless the parents die suddenly while they’re still young and capable, the kids become the ones in charge of of their parent’s  latter years. There is no instruction manuel on how to care for the elderly.

Faced with what to do when my mother’s health started going down hill in 2000, I wanted to help make her last years more comfortable. .  She lived near-by in her own home.  Depending on traffic, it could take anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour to get to her in the event of an emergency.  She had been having mini strokes, and the chances of her falling and doing major damage to herself was a worry.

When she’d first moved here to Virginia, a few years earlier, we visited a number of local senior citizen communities with both assisted living and nursing facilities.  Mom and I were in agreement that she wasn’t yet ready for that and strongly believed that one should be around people of all ages until the very end of their lives.  She was able-bodied, had her faculties about her, and said, “I don’t want to hang out with a bunch of old people.”

But when her health started failing a few years later, I had to make a decision about what to do.  Our relationship wasn’t of the best quality. But I loved her and wanted to help her in some way. Friends told me to put her in an assisted living facility.  They said, “She’ll be well taken care of and you won’t have a thing to worry about.” But on our earlier tour of those facilities, I wasn’t keen on what I saw happening there.

Having been the family caretaker and problem solver all of my life, I spent a number of difficult weeks trying to decide what to do, before I chose to bring her home to live with me.  In my upcoming memoir,  ME, MYSELF, AND MOM,  A Journey Through Love, Hate, and Healing, I tell the story of the seven years I spent being Mom’s primary caregiver. It was a nightmare, as Mom, narcissistic and an  alcoholic, was diagnosed with lung cancer and died a slow, painful death.

Would I do it again?  To be honest, I don’t know.  If I was the person I am today, I’d seriously think about it. But it’s downright terrifying for all parties involved, and is not for those with their own problems or challenging emotional ties with the person needing care. For me, it was a tempestuous,  yet amazing personal growth experience, filled with heart wrenching despair. My own difficulties with an anxiety disorder and forgotten memories of childhood abuse, made those years living with Mom more than contentious.

At the time, robots were not part of the health care scheme. Right now, Japan, is experimenting with elder-care robots in nursing homes.  The thought of being in a nursing home being fed by a machine that talks, is far beyond what I want when I can no longer take care of myself.  Now going on seventy-two-years of age, I hope that by the time robots are on staff in every assisted living and nursing home, I will be a thing of the past. But what about those beyond my generation? Are robots capable of expressing compassion, love, and caring for those who need it as they die, often scared and in intense pain?

While finishing his Phd at the University of Salford in Manchester, England, Antonio Espingardeiro, developed a model robot, that could monitor aging patients, communicate with their doctors, and provide companionship and basic care. I get the monitoring and the communicating with doctors part, but can a robot provide a hug, and the knowing that you are loved and truly cared for?

I am making my wishes known right now, folks. Should they be ready before I move on, NO ROBOTS FOR ME!  I want to be cared for by humans, even with all of their faults and difficulties.  A metallic hand will never take the place of holding the hand of someone who understands our human condition. Only another human being is capable of that.


  1. I second the motion: No robots for me either, thank you very much!

    Great post. The photo at the top of you and your mom is great. My dad resides in an assisted living facility (one that my sister and I thoroughly researched beforehand, and we still make periodic, unannounced visits). Our father is manic depressive paranoid schizophrenic and neither one of us is equipped to handle that.

    • Thanks, Laurie. I’s so sorry to hear about your Dad’s ailments. That’s got to really tough. It’s totally understandable that you and your sister can’t care for him. I’m glad you’ve found a facility that meets your expectations.

  2. I basically agree about the coldness of robots; however, I can see where they could fit. If robots do some of the totally routine, mechanizable things, perhaps human staff will be freed to focus on personal, human interaction rather than tapping away on devices half the time they spend with me.

    Plus, I’ve never met an impatient, sarcastic, tired, cranky, sassy robot. I’ve met many people I’d gladly replace with Androids. Hugs from a robot? Anyone ever hugged a teddy bear? Who says robots have to be cold steel?

    I’m dreaming big. I do believe when properly used, robots can improve our quality of life. We’re not there yet, but if you walk through the halls of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, you may have hope we will be.

    • I love your comments, Sharon. Thanks! I think you are right on all counts. I just get a bit chilly about hugging a robot. But dressed in a Santa suite and plumped up with balls of cotton, it just might work.

      I am at the American Comtemporary Play Festival in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. This morning I saw an incredible play about the capabilities of robots, entitled, Uncanny Valley by Thomas Gibbons. It’s a play inspired by an article the playwright read in National Geographic about the LifeNaut Group in Vermont. They are exploring the idea of downloading human consciousness into artificial bodies to extend a human’s life by hundreds of years. It’s filled with the positives and the negatives of such an undertaking, brilliantly written, and the acting was over the top wonderful. If you ever get a chance to see it, take a look. It really mind expanding and filled with lots of things to ponder.

  3. Joan, I’m so glad to have happened upon your blog this morning. This particular entry was so timely for me. My mom lived with us each winter for a few years, moving into a motor home on our property for the summers. Now she’s in her own little cottage at the end of our driveway. I am eager to read your memoir, and compare our experiences. I hear recovery in your words. 🙂

  4. Joan Rough says:

    Janet, I’m glad you found my blog, too. I have recovered from that tempestuous time, but it’s taken a very long time. My mother was the most difficult person in my life and her last years almost did me in. I’m hoping my book will be of value to anyone who has a parent living at home or is considering it. Check out my blog post next week. There will be a link to a post I’ve written on finding forgiveness through writing memoir.

    Thanks for your visit, Janet.

    • Maureen says:

      Have you seen the movie Robot and Frank? Your post made me remember it. I highly recommend! Just visited my ailing mother today and lots of emotions swirling. I’m very close to mom and don’t think I could do what you did.

      • Hi Maureen, I’ve been trying to remember the name of that film and here you are with what I needed. Thanks! I plan on renting it.

        Sorry to hear about your mom. Times with aging parents can be so difficult. Each of us has to decide on what to do for them based on what we think we can do. It’s always a guess. And we need to consider ourselves as much as do the parent.


  1. […] I plan on being back here next Tuesday, July 29th, with a follow up post to, Is There A Robot In Your Future?. […]

  2. […] My favorite show of the weekend was a new play, Uncanny Valley, by Thomas Gibbons, an award winning playwright from Philadelphia. The term “uncanny valley,” is a well-known idea in the field of robotics, artificial consciousness and computer animation. Since my last full post here was about work being done to create robots that can be caretakers to the aging, writing about this show seemed a perfect follow up to that post. […]