Methods: Data were collected from a sample of adults all aged 85 and older through an exploratory mixed methods study design. This sample is part of an ongoing bimonthly panel that meets to discuss the challenges of longevity. In this study, two separate workshops were convened in a year – one workshop to discuss caregiving (N=22) and another about new technologies, including social robots (N=20). Participants completed a questionnaire on the topic before the workshops. At each in-person meeting, participants were divided into focus groups. As this is an ongoing panel, the majority of participants who attend the caregiving workshop also attended the technology workshop.
Participants in each of these sessions ranged in age from 85 to 99. All lived independently in the Boston-metro area. Participants were overwhelmingly more affluent, educated, and racially-homogeneous relative to the larger U.S. over-85 population.
Results: Analyses revealed panelists report at baseline they are generally comfortable with, trusting of, and open to new technologies as well as interested in learning about new technologies that can help with caregiving (66.7%). Panelist attitudes toward social robots were highly varied as several participants expressed they were unwilling to interact with or own one. Barriers to adoption of social robot agents included concerns about security and privacy as well as ambiguity around maintaining independence. However, when the role of robotic agents was shifted into a care context (e.g., a robot could help with activity of daily living tasks, I could talk with it about health matters, or it could alert someone in the event of an emergency), participants responded more favorably towards adoption. In focus groups, participants highlighted robo-caregivers may be utilitarian, but are not substitutes for human interaction.
Implications: The field of social work and welfare must be prepared to understand the implications of social and care robotics for clinical practice, research, and policy. Older adults and caregivers may benefit from these technologies. This study highlights the barriers to adoption older users may experience. Social workers are well-positioned to address user concerns and close disparities in access to social and care robots. These findings suggest a need for further research on the barriers to adoption of social and care robots with larger, more diverse samples.