How often do you call your aging parents?
(Pause for uncomfortable silence…)
I completely understand. I have been there myself. Now, In this digital age especially, it can feel as though your days are not your own: work seems to demand more from us all than it ever has; friends, colleagues and acquaintances are able to reach out to us 24 hours a day on multiple social media platforms; plus, as a member of the sandwich generation, you have your own growing family to care for. With the day-to-day errands and chores needed to keep dinners rolling out nightly and children (not to mention yourself and your spouse) dressed in clean clothing, it’s no wonder that days, even weeks, may go by in between check-ins with Mom and Dad.
This past week, an article about the development of a robot companion for the elderly caught my eye. Intrigued, I began to read it in greater detail, initially thinking that a blog post about geriatric technology could soon be in order. Instead, the real detail which stuck with me was nothing new, and that is this: Our elderly are dangerously lonely.
Here’s an example from the article: “According to Age UK, nearly half of all people aged 75 and over live alone and more than 1 million say they always or often feel lonely. Thirty-six percent speak to fewer than one person per day and 11 percent say they spent five days or more a month without seeing anyone.”
Additionally, since science and medicine are helping to extend people’s lives, our aging population is living longer–and mostly “confounded by” the very technology needed to stay interactive and engaged with the rest of the population.
And so … a team in Israel is working on creating a robot, one which is programmed to know the aging person’s likes and dislikes (among other things) as reported in part by family members, in order to provide missing companionship as well as guidance for technological needs.
I’m sure that this is a good thing (yes?), and yet for some reason it causes me just a twinge of pain.
Can’t we also all resolve to make a few more phone calls, specifically to those we know who are old and lonely?
If you have a loved one who is elderly and alone, or if you know of such a person in your neighborhood, I’d like to ask you to please schedule five minutes into your day today to phone that person.
Making a difference in someone’s life doesn’t necessarily take a team of engineers. Sometimes all it takes is just one small action.
All the best,
Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.