Robotic pets help the elderly in care homes be happy and mingle more, a new study found.
Mechanical cats, dogs, bears and even baby seals can offer the companionship of the real thing – but without the constant feeding and walking.
‘Robopets’ are small animal-like robots with the look and behaviour of real pets and give the elderly comfort and joy while reducing agitation and loneliness,
Playing with the robots also increased social interaction with other residents, family members and staff – as well as often sparking conversation, researchers at the University of Exeter found.
Robotic pets help the elderly in care homes be happy and mingle more, a new study found. Pictured, a staff member and resident at Templeman House care home in Bournemouth, Dorset with biscuit – a robotic dog. Biscuit has been helping residents remember happy memories
A study published in the International Journal of Older People and Nursing revealed ‘obopets can reduce loneliness in the elderly.
Senior Research Fellow Dr Rebecca Abbott, from the University of Exeter Medical School, said: ‘Although not every care home resident may choose to interact with robopets, for those who do, they appear to offer many benefits.
The systematic review looked at 19 studies involving 900 care home residents and staff and family members.
The robopets used in the studies were Necoro and Justocat (cats), Aibo (a dog), Cuddler (a bear) and Paro (a baby seal).
‘Some of these are around stimulating conversations or triggering memories of their own pets or past experiences, and there is also the comfort of touching or interacting with the robopet itself.
‘The joy of having something to care for was a strong finding across many of the studies.
One of the dogs, Aibo, could wag its tail, enjoyed being tickled under its chin, and would dance if you sang ‘If You’re Happy and You Now It’ while the bear, Cuddler, gave people a hug.
Dr Abbott said: ‘One gentleman wouldn’t go to sleep until the robopet was placed on his chest. It was the same weight as his cat and very much a calming tool’ Co-author of the study, Dr Noreen Orr, was keen to emphasise they did not want a dystopian future filled with robots.
She added: ‘Of course robopets are no substitute for human interaction, but our research shows that for those who choose to engage with them, they can have a range of benefits.’ Minister for Care, Caroline Dinenage said: ‘Modern technology has the amazing capacity to improve people’s health and wellbeing and revolutionise the care they receive.
‘I want older people to have healthier, more connected and independent lives – we are investing £98 million to develop innovative new products – like robopets – services and treatments through our Ageing Society Grand Challenge.