weekly blog--one for the ages
When I was managing my mother’s care during the last year of her life, I often wondered what would have happened if no one was around to do the managing. Kodokushi or 'lonely death' refers to a Japanese phenomenon of people dying alone and remaining undiscovered for a long period of time.
Kodokushi has become an increasing problem that has been attributed to the country’s economic troubles, a growing elderly population, a shortage of workers and family members to take care of them, and the social isolation that elderly people often experience as they reach the last stage of life. If nothing else, the phenomenon of Kodokushi increases the pressure on government, family members and local communities to ensure that the elderly don’t fall through the cracks and become forgotten.
In that regard, 18 states have enacted legislation that would allow a patient to name a family caregiver to help legitimize the role family members’ play in the health care system, and prevent hospitals from releasing patients without the caregiver being notified.
Meanwhile, technology in the form of robots is on its way. In recent years, Japanese researchers have designed robots that can play games and dance with the elderly, keep their minds active with trivia, and listen and respond to problems. One company recently introduced a humanoid creature with the power to read and respond to human emotions. They made 1,000 robots, costing $1,600 each, and sold them all in less than one minute, according to a recent Boston Globe article on robots.
In the works are robots that can assist with walking and gently lift a patient of up to 176 pounds and carry them around. More promising are limited-use robots which can wash people’s hair or watch for breathing or movement, and exoskeleton bodysuits that an elderly person can wear to enhance mobility.
For better or worse, the experts say that we are about 10 years away from seeing a socialized, multi-tasking robot that can replace the human caregiver.