It is clear that many people enjoy and can be relaxed by interaction with pet animals. Studies have also shown that interaction with animals is useful for people to relieve mental stress, improve alertness and to improve physical strength and dexterity in rehabilitation. It has also been found that such interaction can improve cognitive functioning in the elderly in both ‘institutional’ and home environments. An ongoing experiment with the use of ‘robot animals’ interacting with the cognitively impaired nursing home residents in Japan has suggested such a program can improve both a sense of well-being and improve mental functioning.
Several years ago a Japanese research group (National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology) developed a small robotic ‘pet’ called Paro. It’s external appearance is of a baby harp seal. The idea has been to develop adjunctive therapies that can improve cognition in impaired (as well as normal) adults, and thereby reduce the economic and social burden of dementia as well as improve the quality of life for the individual.
The research appeared to show cognitive improvement (by brainwave analysis) in 50% of the subjects that interacted with the robot seal for 20 minutes a day. The summary of the study can be read in this link. Details of the study are in this .pdf file.
The following are video links showing Paro in action (click on pictures to start videos).
Many hospitals and nursing homes do not accept animals because of allergies, infections, bites and scratches they can cause. In some places, people are not allowed to take care of animals in an apartment. Moreover, some people who live alone have difficulty taking care of their pets by themselves. Will robots be the personal caregivers of the future? Perhaps..
Other interesting links related to this topic:
BBC article – (Mini-Series) Golden Years concerning Japan’s aging population
Global Trend Research article about Paro