Loneliness is a big problem for many elderly Americans. One-third of adults older than 45 say they feel alone, and the ramifications increase as they age. Studies show that loneliness and social isolation are associated with higher death rates.
Could robots be the answer? Studies indicate that the majority of people aren’t keen on cozying up to a cyborg. A survey of Europeans showed that only 26 percent were comfortable with the idea of robots providing help and companionship in their old age, although 84 percent agree robots are an economic necessity for some types of jobs.
Yet despite the skeptics, industry leaders still believe the elderly could benefit from advances in automation and in artificial intelligence. Studies suggest robots can deliver medicine and help with caregiving, helping the elderly and infirm with everyday tasks as well as with medical monitoring
And then, there are robocats.
It’s long been known that pets can help reduce stress and anxiety for people of all ages, but many seniors have trouble keeping an animal safe and healthy. Mobility issues might prevent them from walking a dog or cleaning a litter box, or they may have limited access to a pet store. Those with dementia can easily forget to feed, brush or give fresh water to the animals within their care.
That’s why an increasing number of elder caretakers are turning to robotic cats and dogs. The fluffy creatures are more than a stuffed animal to clutch as a comfort object. Advances in artificial intelligence and robotic technology have created pseudo pets that can interact with humans, purring and wagging tails in response to their owners.
It’s not yet known if robotic pets will make a significant difference in the mental or physical health of the aged or disabled, but anecdotal reports are enough for some caregivers to take notice. RiverSpring MLTC, a long-term managed care nonprofit based in the Bronx, New York, has purchased more than two dozen cats and dogs for its clients. Watch how one resident has formed a loving bond with her Princess.