Robotic pets: how ‘robopets’ can benefit the health of older care home residents

An image to illustrate the concept of robotic pets which may help older care home residents
© iStock/Devrimb

A new study has assessed how robotic pets could improve the health and wellbeing of older care home residents.

The researchers found evidence that robotic pets provide comfort and pleasure, and reduce agitation and loneliness for older care home residents.

Although the researchers acknowledged that robotic pets were not to everyone’s liking, they commented that knowing whether a care home resident likes animals or has previously had a pet is helpful in gauging how much they might engage with a robopet.

Why do robotic pets help older care home residents?

The lead author, Dr Rebecca Abbott of the University of Exeter Medical School, explained: “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.”

An alternative to animal pets

The co-author 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. A new wave of more affordable robopets may make them more accessible to care homes.”

The Ageing Society Grand Challenge

The 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.”

Dineage added: “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.”

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