Friday, February 8, 2008

Someone To Watch Over Me

I can't do much for myself anymore. You name it and I can't do it. When I wake up in the morning, I need assistance with getting out of bed, showering, dressing, grooming and even getting my pants down to go to the bathroom. During the week, I pay a young woman to come in and help me between 10:00 and 3:00 while my husband is at work. I had been going to an adult daycare, but I actually got kicked out because I was too physically disabled. Most of the clients there were in their 70s and 80s. They were ambulatory and in the early stages of Alzheimer's or dementia. It certainly wasn't my first choice for care, but it was a helpful backup and a few days ago I could've used one.

My usual keeper was struck down with a stomach virus and couldn't come to work for me. This certainly put me in a jam because the people I know who aren't working are either older or they have MS like me. Neither of those two groups are up to the lifting required to help me. Even when I was going to daycare, I had to give them a week's notice so they would have adequate staffing. People like me are not allowed to be spontaneous; we need a plan for everything.

I started thinking that there must be a better way for me to stay at home and be independent. Since there are no original ideas left out there in the world, it turns out that other people have been thinking about this problem too. The Japanese are working to develop robot caregivers for the elderly and the physically disabled. You've probably seen the creepy-looking Asimo from Honda, but there is also a creature called Twendy One. Thus far, the company responsible for Twendy One has spent seven years and billions of dollars on research and development. The makers of Twendy One in particular even demonstrated their creation helping a man from the bed into a wheelchair. Sounds cold, right?

Well, there's still a long way to go. I watched the footage on You Tube and there is no way that the human is really disabled. He put his hands on top of the robot's hands and that was enough to lift him up and pitted him into the wheelchair. I assure you that such transfers are much uglier than that. For me personally, I have to be lifted from under my armpits. A hug is best. Beyond the technical difficulties is the issue of cost. The current price tag estimate for this piece of technology is $200,000. If I could afford that, I could have around the clock paid human caregivers.

I won't be putting my order in for a robot anytime soon. This is what bothers me about new assistive technology. What good is a wonderful new tool like a caregiver robot, a power wheelchair that climbs stairs ($30,000), a track lift system that can help with transfers and many other items if nobody can afford them? My health insurance, which is pretty typical, has a yearly allowance of $1000 for durable medical equipment. Even Medicare, if it approves the equipment, only pays 80%. Obviously, companies aren't spending all this money without expecting a return on their investment, so somebody will be able to afford these devices. Maybe the hospital or nursing home of the future will be staffed with robots? Let's just hope that it doesn't end up like "I, Robot."

Watch Twendy One:


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