University Of Exeter Proves Benefits Of Robopets

University Of Exeter Proves Benefits Of Robopets

By Sofy Robertson

A University of Exeter Medical School study has investigated the health and wellbeing benefits of robopets for elderly people living in care homes.

The small animal-like robots have the appearance and many of the behavioural characteristics of companion animals or pets. Five different robopets were used in the studies; Necoro and Justocat (cats), Aibo (a dog), Cuddler (a bear) and Paro (a baby seal).

The studies investigated older people’s experiences of interacting with robopets and measured the impact the pets had on factors such as agitation, loneliness and social interaction.

Researchers found evidence of the benefits of robopets which included a reduction in agitation and loneliness. The robopets also provided comfort to the elderly people who took part in the study and researchers saw an increase in social interaction with other residents, family members and staff, often with the robopet acting as a stimulus.

The research, published today (9th May), in the International Journal of Older People Nursing, took into account evidence from nineteen studies involving 900 care home residents and staff and family members.

Lead author 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. 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.” (Radio Exe)

The researchers acknowledged that not all residents liked the robopets and recommended specific staff training to enable residents to get the most out of their robopet. Knowing whether a resident likes animals or has previously had a pet of their own is also likely to impact on how much they might engage with the robopet.

The researchers recommended future work to examine whether the benefits of robopets were short-term or sustained over time.

Minister for Care, Caroline Dinenage, commented:

“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.

“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.”

Simon Bird, Chief Executive at Care South, which has seen success in using robopets, said:

“At Care South, we are continually looking at ways to embrace technology, and evolve and enhance the care we provide to our residents offering the best quality care to help them feel relaxed and importantly, at home. 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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