Conference Contribution Details
Mandatory Fields
Heike Felzmann
European Society for Philosophy, Medicine and Healthcare
Assistive care robots for elderly with dementia: human dependency and the technologisation of elderly care
Ghent, Belgium
Oral Presentation
Optional Fields
†††††††††††††††††††††† Developed countries across the world are facing a shift in demographics towards increasing proportions of elderly in the population, with particularly dramatic rises in the numbers of the very elderly over 80 years old. Rates of physical frailty and dementia increase substantially in this age group, and adequately meeting their increasing care needs is becoming a significant social concern. A particular focus of care strategies internationally is to facilitate persons with dementia to continue living at home as long as possible, rather than caring for them in more restrictive (and costly) institutional settings. However, care at home requires a level of human care provision that is often not available, and the current reality is that as a consequence many people with dementia experience loneliness and neglect, resulting in accelerated cognitive and functional decline. ICT solutions have been proposed to enable persons with dementia to continue living in their communities, including ambient assisted living technologies, companion robots, monitoring robots or assistive robots. Assistive robots in particular may provide a range of supports, including feeding, bathing, physical exercises, medication reminders, games, cognitive stimulation, and facilitation of social interaction. Overall robot functionalities are still highly specific and generally limited (especially if compared to the images of robots in the popular imagination), but they can provide practically useful services. The recent ethical debate on the use of such robots has been wide ranging, focusing on aspects such as requirements of ethical design, privacy, safety, their impact on care and the further marginalisation of the elderly. While many contributions to the debate accept in principle that robot assisted care could be of value to the elderly, a strong dystopian undercurrent is noticeable especially in contributions dealing with the impact of robots on the nature of care for the elderly. In this paper, I will engage specifically with arguments that present robots as a technological threat to genuine human caring relationships. I will discuss these concerns from a relational ethics perspective that starts from an analysis of dependency, informed by feminist reflections on dependency and caring relationships. I will explore the interplay of dependency and independence for all stakeholders resulting from the introduction of robots to the care of persons with dementia. Given that robotic care is currently an add-on to, not a full replacement of care for the elderly, relationships between the person with dementia, their formal and informal carers and the robot are all affected. This allows a relationally more complex picture of robotsí impact on care to emerge. While the use of robots needs to be considered in its wider social context, including its potentially problematic longer term implications on the delivery of care, this perspective should not replace the ethical consideration of immediate relational impacts on dependency, independence and care delivery.
Publication Themes