AI may be fueling ageism and inequality in aged care homes, finds study

The research also indicates that AI could solve many aged care issues if only handled properly.
Loukia Papadopoulos
A robot helping a senior citizen with her insulin.jpg
A robot helping a senior citizen with her insulin.


A world-first study has found that incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) into aged care homes can worsen ageism and social inequality.

This is according to a press release published by Monash University on Friday.

The research highlights the unmet value of AI to aid in dealing with aged care issues including loneliness of residents through chat, video and image sharing, all the way through to medical assessment tools.

AI technology, ranging from robots to voice assistants, promoted in aged care can exacerbate ageist views due to the choices of carers on how best to use technology for older people in these settings.

“AI can perpetuate ageism and exacerbate existing social inequalities,” lead author Dr. Barbara Barbosa Neves said.

“When implementing AI technologies in aged care, we must consider them as part of a suite of care services and not as isolated solutions.”

Additional work is required to better assess how older people are viewed in the design and implementation of AI technologies in order to ensure the technology can assist rather than harm the sector.

Reassessing long-held beliefs

The findings indicate there are long-standing views about older people as dependent, incompetent, and disinterested in technology, rather than engaged and that ageism can therefore be generated by design.

Both AI developers and aged care staff have been found to assume a lack of interest and/or capacity of older people to use the technology, ignoring the need to be accessible and non-discriminatory.

The study further revealed that AI, if handled with care, could be used to solve aged care issues. However, aged care staff and advocates did bring up concerns of replacing humans with robots and questions as to who is responsible for machinery failures.

There is also currently a great need to change stereotypes about aged care residents and the attitudes of staff. In addition, AI developers need to consider technologies that are designed for, and inclusive of, older people.

“The use of AI in aged care must be done with consideration of the potential impact of these technologies on well-being, autonomy, and dignity of older residents,” Dr. Neves concluded in the statement.

The paper is published in the Journal of Applied Gerontology.

Study abstract:

This article explores views about older people and aging underpinning practices and perceptions of development and implementation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in long-term care homes (LTC). Drawing on semi-structured interviews with seven AI developers, seven LTC staff, and four LTC advocates, we analyzed how AI technologies for later life are imagined, designed, deployed, and resisted. Using the concepts of “promissory discourse” and “aging anxieties”, we investigated manifestations of ageism in accounts of AI applications in LTC. Despite positive intentions, both AI developers and LTC staff/advocates engaged in simplistic scripts about aging, care, and the technological capacity of older people. We further uncovered what we termed sociotechnical ageism—a form that is not merely digital but rests on interacting pre-conceptions about the inability or lack of interest of older people to use emerging technologies coupled with social assumptions about aging, LTC, and technological innovation.