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Theme: Mental Health & Dementia
This review was led by the Evidence Synthesis Team.
The use of animals in a therapy context is known as animal-assisted interventions (AAI). Research has found AAIs to be beneficial in reducing stress and behavioural problems in the general public, and AAIs have been shown to reduce depression and behavioural problems, while also providing companionship, among older people in residential care, including persons with dementia. However, AAIs can pose risks including bites, infections and accidents such as falls, and care homes may not be able to meet the needs of living animals. These issues, along with the limited availability of appropriate animals, mean that AAIs may not be offered as therapy or as an option for meaningful activities.
Robotic animals, or ‘robopets’, are “small domestic robots which have the appearance and behavioural characteristics of companion pets” and may provide an alternative to AAIs. Examples of robopets that have been used in a care home setting include a baby harp seal (PARO), a robotic cat (NeCoRo), and a robotic dog (AIBO). The advantages of robopets include imitative lifelike behaviour, programmed responsiveness, and their ability to provide alternative models of communication and interaction (tactile-kinesthetic, visual, sensory-emotional, and social). Recent literature suggests that the introduction of a robopet into a care home can reduce stress, anxiety and loneliness among residents, and can reduce agitation and improve mood in long-term care residents with dementia. Robopets also provide an opportunity for residents to care for something, and for reminiscing about past experiences of pets which may directly bring about pleasure, or may facilitate interaction with fellow residents to encourage friendship and reduce loneliness. Research has also indicated that people can become attached to robopets – despite their computerised nature – and the advantages of robopets, along with the problems associated with AAIs, has led to suggestions that robopets may be a feasible alternative to the use of live animals in therapy.
This review aims to create a state-of-knowledge synthesis on the impact of robopet-human interaction on care home residents and care home staff. This will be used where possible to inform good practice recommendations for the residential/nursing care sector.
The main objective of this review is to assess the effectiveness of robotic animals for improving the psychological wellbeing and quality of life of residents in long-term care.
Secondary objectives of this review are:
to assess whether the effectiveness of robotic animals differs on residents’ social interactions, functional activity, physical health and medication;
to assess whether there are adverse effects (for residents or care home staff) of robotic animals in long-term care;
to extend the review of the evidence to explore the qualitative experience of robotic animals from the perspective of residents, carers and care home staff.
What are the impacts (short-term and long-term) of robopets on the health and wellbeing, medication use, and quality of life of older people living in residential/nursing care?
Are robopets effective in improving resident health and wellbeing? (evidence from randomised controlled trials)
What are residents’ (including those with dementia) experiences of interacting with robopets? (evidence from the qualitative studies)
What are the views of residential care staff on the use of robopets on residents and on life in the care home in general? (evidence from qualitative studies)
What challenges of involving robopets in care homes are faced by residents, families/carers and care home staff? (evidence from quantitative and qualitative studies)
Are any adverse events associated with the use of robopets in care homes? (evidence from quantitative and qualitative studies)
We will publish the results of the review in a high impact, peer reviewed journal and present at an academic conference. We will also publish in a journal such as Nursing and Residential Care which aims to keep care home staff up-to-date with best practice. We will organise a workshop to present our findings to the South West Residential Care Home Network and co-produce a lay summary with our Expert Advisory Group to distribute across the residential care home sector. The Expert Advisory Group will also contribute to and get involved with ideas regarding dissemination and engagement of the research findings to reach a wide but relevant audience. We may also share podcasts, video clips and highlights of good practice in the local news.
For more information on this project, view the protocol here.