Pet Robots Helping Dementia Patients
We increasingly hear of robots taking over humans’ jobs, but could robots fill in for dogs in pet therapy? Pet robots are increasingly being used in assisted living facilities and day care centers to help patients with dementia.
People with more severe dementia often experience a range of behavioral and psychological symptoms, such as disturbed perceptions, hyperactivity, sleep problems, agitation and depression.
Dogs and other animals provide companionship and comfort for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Interacting with pets has shown many health and emotional benefits but may not always be practical or appropriate. There may be concerns about the animals injuring residents, or agitated residents scaring or harming the pets, or the time and cost associated with pets. Lifelike pet robots offer several advantages. They can be used when live animals are not available or possible, for example, or when other residents are allergic or fearful of animals. They can be used at any time and they avoid the potential safety risk of live animals and require less time and resources.
These are not just stuffed animals, they are sophisticated robots designed specifically to help older adults with dementia. Some have sensors for light, sound, touch and posture, and can perceive people and their environment. They can recognize light and dark, feel being stroked and recognize the direction of voice and basic words. (View robotic pets in action.)
Research shows that the pet robots show similar benefits to animal-assisted therapy. Pet robots can reduce stress responses and exert a calming influence through social and physical interactions. One recent review of research found that use of the pet robots led to a decrease in behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia, especially agitation and depression. The pet robots benefitted people in both individual and group settings. Using the pet robots in a group setting improved communication and cooperation among participants, therapists and staff.
Other studies have found use of pet robots can help address loneliness among nursing home residents, and by reducing stress and anxiety can lead to less use of psychoactive and pain medications in elderly adults with dementia.
A study of robotic cats concluded they helped improve the quality of life of dementia patients by increasing interaction, stimulation, relaxation and comfort. The authors also noted seeing “moments of joy, reduced feelings of loneliness, and more opportunities for connecting with something outside oneself.”
While a robotic pet may seem a bit cold or impersonal and they may not be for everyone, they can potentially bring comfort, calming and connection for many living with dementia.
- Minmin, L. et al. Pet robot intervention for people with dementia: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Psychiatry Research, 2019, 271;516-525.
- Petersen, S. et al. The Utilization of Robotic Pets in Dementia Care. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 2017;55(2):569-574
- Liang, A, et al. A Pilot Randomized Trial of a Companion Robot for People with Dementia Living in the Community. J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2017, 18(10):871-878.
- Gustafsson, C., Svanberg, C., Mullersdorf, M. Using a Robotic Cat in Dementia Care. Journal of Gerontological Nursing. 2015, (41)10:46-56.