Are robots the solution to loneliness during the pandemic?

Are robots the solution?

I unexpectedly met someone who works with hospice patients. 

As soon as I heard her job title, curiosity took over. “I can’t imagine how difficult your job must be,” I said, without thinking too much. “How tough is it to care for hospice patients in the middle of the Coronavirus?” 

I didn’t know what to expect. But her response made me want to cry. For those caring for senior citizens in group homes, nursing homes, or hospice, the pandemic has only complicated their already emotionally-taxing work. 

“It’s heartbreaking,” the hospice worker told me. “Many of the patients I’ve cared for for years have passed away during the lockdown. Some because of Coronavirus, but many of my patients are dying from loneliness.”  

The hospice worker continued to tell me she couldn’t even say ‘goodbye’ to her patients during the lockdown. “Everyone was under strict ‘no contact’ regulations.”

Take away someone’s purpose for living — seeing their family, interacting with others, smiling at the nurse when she walks in — and suddenly life doesn’t look the same

But for some senior citizens, robots are trying to solve the loneliness problem. Elderly people who cannot care for real cats or dogs are suddenly introduced to robotic ones. Some research suggests that interaction with a robot can increase overall wellbeing. 

The technology behind these robots is fascinating. The bots can remind patients when they need to take medication, bark or purr, and even walk around. But the question remains, is it enough? Very few people have access to these types of robots, and whether or not everyone would enjoy one is hard to tell. 

The technology gets scarier when you consider robots replacing human interaction by convenience rather than necessity. If having a robotic puppy helps senior citizens feel less lonely during the pandemic, then it’s a plus. However, if robotic cats and dogs start substituting human interaction now and beyond the pandemic, then the loneliness crisis is only being accentuated. 

There are many cases of families and patients who are struggling from loneliness due to social distancing guidelines. Unfortunately, “loneliness” is impossible to measure. It’s a subjective term. However, the impact it’s having on everyone this year is heartbreakingly real. 

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