The systematic review, published in the International Journal of Older People Nursing, brought together evidence from 19 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.”
Robopets are small animal-like robots which 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). Some of the studies were on older people’s experiences of interacting with the robopets, while others sought to measure impact on factors such as agitation, loneliness and social interaction.
The researchers acknowledged that not everyone liked robopets, and recommended that specific staff training around best use may help residents get the most out of their robopet. Knowing whether someone likes animals, or previously had a pet of their own, is also likely to impact on how much they might engage with a robopet.
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 researchers recommended that future work could examine whether the benefits are short-term or sustained over time.