At a Milken Institute Health Summit in 2017, I participated in a panel discussion that focused on effective methods for healthier aging on a vast scale. One of the key discussion points was how Loneliness and Isolation were a leading cause of death among the elderly. Here in 2020, that concern has been amplified by the pandemic. During that panel discussion, I mentioned the use of companion robots to deal with this growing crisis. As society continues to age, the problem of isolation and loneliness grows more acute.
Fast-forward to 2020 and robotic companions are not just talk, but a growing reality. In this recent Article, author Paula Span describes the use of automated animals in dealing with the challenge of isolation and loneliness. As the article states, long before the pandemic, loneliness and social disconnection were acknowledged public health problems for older people, linked to measurably poorer mental and physical health.
As our elderly community has grown more isolated, not only in facilities but also among seniors living alone in their homes, interest in these robotic companions has intensified. Two such companions first appeared in American nursing homes via a Japanese baby seal called PARO in 2009, and Hasbro’s robotic cats in 2015. Do they work? According to the article, investigators followed 61 residents with dementia who had 20-minute group sessions with a PARO three days a week for three months. Researchers reported that their stress and anxiety decreased, and they needed less medication for pain and problem behaviors.
There are other examples of positive outcomes provided by Ms. Span. Studies showed improvement in mental well-being, sense of purpose and optimism. These studies also found a reduction in loneliness, but not the elimination of it. As with every advancement, there will be those that see this as a negative step for society and an impersonal way to handle this challenge. However, with limited options, and a global aging population, solutions in any form must be pursued. Here we are talking about automated animal companions, but humanoid companions and caregivers are a likely evolution from there. Read the entire article for a really good look into the topic.