Coping with the approaching tsunami of aging

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Are you aware that 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every single day?

In addition, new medical advances are helping seniors live longer, with 85-plus being the fastest-growing age group. The majority of these seniors want to age in place in their homes.

Conversely, the number of potential caregivers is decreasing. This is an aging tsunami of global proportions.

In light of the diminishing caregiver pool, society must find solutions to protect seniors' rights and safety and adequately house and care for them while meeting their medical, physical, emotional and social needs.

About 20 percent of the population of Japan is over 65 now, and experts predict that by 2025 there will be a shortage of 1 million caregivers for the country.

Researchers in Japan are facing the challenge using technology by creating "carebots" that can take the place of human caregivers. These carebots can bring food to someone, turn off lights and even go grocery shopping.

Another robotic device converts from a bed to a wheelchair, eliminating the need to lift someone in or out of bed. In June 2010, Japan introduced small mobile robotic nurses used mostly for communication between seniors, their caregivers and physicians.

Similarly, the European Commission has invested heavily in robotic technology. Robots have been developed for those living alone that provide companionship, remind them to take medicines on time, provide reminders about appointments and retain information, such as phone numbers or names, while tracking progress or memory loss.

In December 2016, the Business Insider reported IBM is working on a robot with sensors for homebound seniors that can tell when a stove burner has been left on or detect a senior fall.

A camera on the robot can read facial expressions to help with diagnosis of such illnesses as heart attack or stroke. The robot can speak a few words, but not carry on a conversation.

Also in December 2016, the New York Times reported a nursing home in New York successfully employed furry robotic cats for residents with Alzheimer's or dementia to calm agitation and anxiety.

What will researchers think of next?

Society is learning to use technology, i.e. "smart" televisions and Siri, that can control household functions through voice commands.

But will robots eliminate the need for the human touch?

Daniel C. Potts, neurologist and medical director for Dementia Dynamics, believes robots can assist with such things as turning or lifting, but does not think anything will ever replace the human touch. "Story and personal sharing is so important for all of us, an essential for human life," Potts said. "Relationship is critical and it becomes even more important as we age. . . Nothing can take the place of human touch, eye contact, warmth, reminiscence, presence, compassion and empathy - bearing one another's burdens through real relationships."

Rachel Carson is the owner of the Home Instead Senior Care franchise serving The Lowcountry since 1997.

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