Beep. Beep. Grandma's help is at hand

At night the Wakamaru is programmed to patrol the premises and by day it can do a little light housework
Click to follow
The Independent Online

At last – a gleam of light at the end of the geriatric tunnel that has nothing to do with sheltered housing, followed by a one-way ticket to Geneva for a lethal cocktail. I have nothing against euthanasia, by the way. Indeed, if legalising it guaranteed an end to the barrage of programmes, articles and government reports we're subjected to these days about the problems of an ageing population, the inadequacy of pensions and the shortage of carers and care homes, then the sooner the better say I. Let all those euthanasia societies called Exit and Dignitas and Finito and Curtains have licences to trade asap. They could even set up stalls in farmers' markets.

At last – a gleam of light at the end of the geriatric tunnel that has nothing to do with sheltered housing, followed by a one-way ticket to Geneva for a lethal cocktail. I have nothing against euthanasia, by the way. Indeed, if legalising it guaranteed an end to the barrage of programmes, articles and government reports we're subjected to these days about the problems of an ageing population, the inadequacy of pensions and the shortage of carers and care homes, then the sooner the better say I. Let all those euthanasia societies called Exit and Dignitas and Finito and Curtains have licences to trade asap. They could even set up stalls in farmers' markets.

There was a deeply depressing radio phone-in the other day about geriatric care which, in spite of myself, I listened to like a rabbit caught in headlights. Caller after disgusted caller both in and out of Tunbridge Wells complained that it was impossible to find suitable accommodation for their ageing relatives. Suitable seemed to imply five-star hotel living quarters, free transport to the shops, a resident doctor and 24-hour nursing for about £50 a week.

"It's an absolute disgrace," said a woman from Harpenden indignantly. "My 90-year-old father has been in three old people's homes since he sold his house 10 years ago and the one he's in at the moment, a private nursing home in Biggleswade, is closing next week and we've absolutely nowhere to put him." What about the spare room in Harpenden, I was going to say, but if she really was as ghastly as she sounded, I can see why her 90-year-old father went to live in Biggleswade.

At this point the owner of the doomed nursing home itself rang in to explain that the reason it was closing was that he was fed up to the back teeth with government inspectors coming round with rule books informing him that his window catches, the width of his bathroom doors and the stuffing in his armchairs didn't conform with EU safety regulations. If he wanted to stay open, he had to alter them and this would cost a fortune.

"But what about my poor father and the other old people you're throwing out on the street?" demanded the woman from Harpenden. "What about them?" replied the man from Biggleswade. "You could always try looking after him yourself."

Or better still, you could put your name down for a Wakamaru. A what? Don't worry, I know it sounds like some exotic species David Attenborough and an eight-man camera crew have been filming for three years in the Australian rainforest but it is in fact a robot especially designed to look after old people. It's Japanese of course – most robots are – but since the Japanese, especially the women (they live to an average age of 85), live longer than any other race, it's very much in their interest to solve the geriatric problem sooner rather than later.

The Wakamaru is 3ft 3in tall, has mini cameras in its eyebrows, a vocabulary of 10,000 words and has been programmed to hold a reasonably intelligent conversation in either a male or female voice, reminding its patient, for instance, to take medication, tune into EastEnders, have a meal or go to sleep. If, let us say the Wakamaru trundled up to its owner and said: "How are you?" and there was no answer, it would immediately telephone the patient's next of kin whereupon pictures from its cunningly-placed eyebrow cameras would come up on the screen showing the worried relative exactly what was going on.

At night the Wakamaru is programmed to patrol the premises like a security guard and by day, when it's not chatting amiably about the shocking price of sushi, it can even do a little light housework. Now that's what I call a breakthrough and for £5,000 it has to be a snip.

My bad-tempered, virtually bed-ridden great aunt who lives on her own in Bristol pays a carer £50 a week to come in every day for 15 minutes just to check she's still breathing and take out the rubbish. Now she'd be a perfect candidate for a Wakamaru. Besides paying for it in two years, it could deal with her temper better than any of her friends or relatives who've stopped visiting because she's so difficult.

As long as it was programmed not to react violently if it were shouted at or told for the umpteenth time that the country would be better off under Mrs Thatcher, my battle-axe of a great aunt would be laughing. More importantly, so would we.

Comments