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Professor Nobu Ishiguro, Graduate School of Language and Culture

Professor Nobu Ishiguro
Studies in Language and Society
Graduate School of Language and Culture

"Caring for the elderly through welfare technology" 

 

Assistive technology brings relief but raises questions

In many countries, technology is considered to be one of the solutions to the challenges faced by a steadily aging society. More and more advanced technological devices and robots have entered the elderly care sector and play an important role in care work. Assistive technologies are intended as a supplement to traditional care services performed by human hands and are expected to improve the quality of life of older people by increasing autonomy while relieving the heavy load of caregivers. At the same time, introducing technology in care triggers some concerns: Can assistive technologies meet the individual care needs of older people? Does technology reduce human contact? Is technology going to replace human care in the near future?

 

Nordic approach provides insight for Japanese care work

 I have been conducting research on care work in elderly care settings in Japan and in Nordic countries from a social policy perspective. As use of technology is an unavoidable topic in discussing care work, I am working on the above-mentioned issues as well. Japan and Denmark, where most of my research is performed, have both taken steps to introduce assistive technology in publicly-provided care with different approaches. The Danish approach to welfare technology is insightful for Japan; the Danish governance structure makes it possible to involve various stakeholders in the implementation process. In Denmark, where elderly care is mainly provided by municipalities, care workers’ organizations (trade unions), care providers (municipalities), and elderly people’s organizations have fairly well-established collaboration, working together to figure out the best solution in terms of welfare technology and other issues. In this way, the voices of the users (elderly people and care workers) are more likely to be reflected in the implementation process and in policy making process in the end. Since participation of users possessing relevant knowledge is crucial and can make innovation work, this approach might have contributed to the relatively successful implementation of welfare technology in Denmark.

 

Technology vs. Isolation: showing how much we care

Loneliness/isolation is also an issue to be addressed when we deal with the topic of care technology. For those in need of help but are capable of control and choice, technology means more autonomy and independence, whereas for frail older people, technology may seem inhuman and cold. Also, it is often discussed whether care technology takes away human interaction time between care recipients and caregivers, thereby increasing feelings of loneliness and isolation. In addition, the global COVID-19 pandemic calls for a new approach to elderly care; due to risk of infection, frail older people might be getting less direct physical contact with caregivers and family. The key question is how we can counteract and prevent social isolation and enhance emotional well-being among older people by using assistive technology. Ethical issues should also be addressed since use of some technologies might imply deception and surveillance which may contradict with care ethics.

 

There is a need for further research into this area, where research on welfare technology from the perspective of care work is seriously lacking when compared with the abundant research from the perspectives of engineering and robotics. Cautious and elaborate discussion about how technology can be integrated into good care practice in a comprehensive manner is also needed. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has given us an additional opportunity to reflect on this issue.

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