Robotic Pets as Companions for Socially Isolated Older Adults

Friday, 25 July 2014: 10:45 AM

Nancy E. Edwards, PhD, MS, ANP-BC
School of Nursing, College of Health and Human Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN
Alan M. Beck, ScD
College of Veterinary Medicine, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN

Purpose: Robotic animals have been used in a variety of ways with older adults.  Robotic animals have been used in a service function as assistive or physical aides and as an entertainment or companion role.   Human interactive robots for entertainment and companionship are increasing in interest and research applications.  This projects examined the influence of a 6 week interaction with a robotic dog (AIBO) on depressive symptoms, morale and life satisfaction in socially isolated older adults.

Methods: Fifteen older adults interacted with AIBO in their room in an assisted living facility for 6 weeks. The individuals kept the dog in their home for the duration of the study. The individuals lived alone, were over 65 years, had a MMSE over 23 and did not have a pet. Baseline data on morale, depressive symptoms and life satisfaction was obtained.  Two weeks later AIBO, a robotic dog, was introduced and allowed to stay with the individual for 6 weeks (Week 8).  Participants were invited to interact with AIBO as often as they liked and could do whatever activities they chose. Data collection was completed at the completion of the study.   Video recordings of the adult/AIBO interactions were obtained at week 2, week 5 and at week 8 when AIBO was removed. 

Results: The sample included 13 female and 2 males with a mean age of 84.  The majority were Caucasian.  The participants reported increased physical activity and socialization while they had the dog as noted in their daily journal. Paired  sample T tests were conducted and found a significant increase in life satisfaction (p<.05) and morale (p<.01) was noted while a significant decrease in depressive symptoms (p<.05) was reported after a six week interaction with the robotic dog (AIBO).  In addition, at the completion of the study the participants identified that AIBO could serve as a companion.

Conclusion: Although human to human interaction is best and human to animal is next, robotic animals can elicit some of the positive feelings that are commonly associated with live animals.  Robotic dogs can act as companions and are associated with increased life satisfaction, morale and decreased depressive symptoms in socially isolated older adults.  Individuals who live alone and cannot have pets may benefit from the companionship of robotic pets.