In the past decade, you have probably seen some cute videos of robot pets coming out of Japan, a country often first for technology trends. Given Japan’s aging population, attention has turned from whimsy to serious application of robot assistants to support independent living and to act as a companion to combat loneliness. In the USA, ten thousand people are turning 65 daily, so the silver tsunami has reached our shores too. How might robotic companions support healthy aging?
A new meta-analysis by Rebecca Abbott and colleagues from the University of Exeter published in the International Journal of Older People Nursing examines robot pets or “robopets” impact on health and wellbeing in care home settings. The robopets included in the study included a baby harp seal, a dog, and a cat.
The meta-analysis included a total of nineteen studies that had qualitative and quantitative assessments from care home residents and staff on that looked at changes in levels of engagement, social interaction, agitation, and provision of comfort and joy. The findings showed that for those who engaged with the robopets the data showed positive results for loneliness and unrest, the robot pet acted as a companion for the care home residents. The authors point out that these results do come from small studies and need replication.
These early signals do point to utility within a care home setting but they are not a panacea, and people who have concerns about privacy may not be an optimal match for a robopet. Given the application of AI within the robopet core’s functionality, the ability to remind people to take their medications, allow residents to reminisce at length and form a bond may augment current care models. As is often the criticism of tech, it is not a substitute for human interaction which we know older adults lack as they age or move away from family and friends. So Robo Fido has excellent potential, and the best uses are still to be determined. The unit cost of robopets remains an issue for most stretched budgets in care home settings.
Thanks for reading – Trina
(Opinions are my own)
How do “robopets” impact the health and wellbeing of residents in care homes? A systematic review of qualitative and quantitative evidence.