Rise of the ‘Robopets’ improves health of care homes’ elderly

This article was taken from: https://www.carehome.co.uk/news/article.cfm/id/1609429/Rise-of-the-Robopets-improves-health-of-care-homes-elderly

By Angeline Albert

Robotic pets that can respond to human interaction are improving the health and wellbeing of older people living in care homes, say academics.

Researchers reviewing studies at 900 care homes found evidence that ‘robopets’ can provide comfort and pleasure and reduce agitation and loneliness in older people.

‘Stimulating conversations… triggering memories’

The research, conducted by the University of Exeter Medical School also found that robopets increase social interaction with other residents, family members and staff, often through acting as a stimulus for conversation.

The review brought together evidence from 19 robopet studies involving 900 care home residents and staff and family members and was published in the International Journal of Older People Nursing.

“Although not every care home resident may choose to interact with robopets, for those who do, they appear to offer many benefits”, said lead author Dr Rebecca Abbott, from the University of Exeter Medical School.

“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.”

The animal-like robots used in the research, have the appearance and some of the behavioural characteristics of pets.

Five different robopets were used in the 19 studies – ‘Necoro’ and ‘Justocat’ (cats), ‘Aibo’ (dog), ‘Cuddler’ (bear) and Paro (baby seal).

PARO the seal pup reacts to being stroked

Unlike a real pet, PARO doesn’t shed hair, need feeding or exercising, but has the benefits of an animal companion by helping to reduce stress and anxiety.

The interactive robot was developed in Japan. It has built-in sensors and artificial intelligence that allows it to ‘learn’ and respond to the name given to it by residents. It can also react to being stroked and spoken to by wriggling, turning to the person holding it, opening its eyes and squeaking.

Alison Hearle, dementia and social life lead at care group Morris Care, which this year began introducing PARO the seal to nursing home residents with dementia in Shropshire and Cheshire, said: “Animal therapy is something we have incorporated in social activities at our homes for many years now.

“This is a slightly different take on that and an exciting one.

“PARO is an amazing therapeutic device that looks so lifelike. It’s been lovely to see the reactions from our residents. People remember pets from their past and engage with it, just as they would a real animal.”

Some of the studies in the review looked at older people’s experiences of interacting with the robopets, while others sought to measure impact on a care home resident’s level of agitation, loneliness and social interaction.

The paper is entitled ‘How do ‘robopets’ impact the health and wellbeing of residents in care homes?’

Co-author of the review, Dr Noreen Orr, said: “It is not always possible to have a cat or a dog come into a care home, so robopets can offer a good alternative.

“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.”

Researchers acknowledged that not every care home resident liked robopets. Knowing whether someone likes animals or previously had a pet of their own is also likely to impact on how much they might engage with a robopet.

The review recommended staff training be introduced to get the most suitable use of robopets for individual care home residents.

The researchers recommend future work could examine whether the health benefits experienced are short-term or sustained over time.

Dr Orr added: “a new wave of more affordable robopets may make them more accessible to care homes”.

Care minister: Investing £98m in technology like robopets

Care minister Caroline Dinenage said: “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.

“Modern technology has the amazing capacity to improve people’s health and wellbeing and revolutionise the care they receive. Technology can never replace human interaction, but this kind of research is incredibly important to help us assess its benefits.”

Simon Bird, chief executive at care home provider Care South, said he has successfully introduced robopets across the group.

Mr Bird said: “We have been very impressed with the results we have seen with the introduction of the robotic dogs at Kenwith Castle and so have also introduced robotic therapy animals to our other homes. It is great to see that the research reflects our experience across our homes.”

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