Health

Pet robots in nursing homes


AmericaLinda Spangler came up with the idea of ​​buying her mother a robotic dog for her 92th birthday, as she always mentioned the long-lost dog Wolfgang.

Charlene Spangler lives at a dementia care facility in Oakland, California.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, collective meals and activities disappeared. Mrs. Spangler was not allowed to see her daughter for six months, only to talk by video call for 15 minutes as arranged by staff. “My mother is becoming more and more isolated in the room, she remembers the old family dog,” said Dr. Linda Spangler.

The fluffy robot dog has sensors, can quickly breathe, bark, wag his tail, do eye activity and feel a heartbeat while hugging. Mrs. Spangler named it Dumbo.

A few years ago, similar robotic pets appeared in American nursing homes. A Japanese company distributed robot seals called PARO in 2009. Hasbro Company launched its robot cat product to the market, 2015.

In the context of isolation caused by the pandemic, nursing homes and even the elderly living alone are interested in these pet robots as friends. Sales increase. Social organizations spend a lot of money to buy them.

Before the pandemic, lonely life and loss of community connection affected the psychological and physical health of the elderly. Disease prevents people from visiting, cultural events, volunteering to stop, or even from grocery shopping, making the elderly feel uneasy and comfortable.

Isolation is particularly threatening to people with dementia, less able to embrace a variety of online activities and connect people.

Laurie Orlov, industry analyst and newsletter founder Aging and Health Technology Watch, “The epidemic has created a strange world, people cannot hug each other freely. The idea of ​​peting a pet, a tactile experience helps to overcome some of the obstacles”.

Many studies show that mental health, motivation and optimism of lonely elderly improve after 30 days of playing robot pets. Image: NY Times.

PARO’s price of 6,120 USD (pet robot from Japan) is accepted by hospitals, nursing homes, and living support facilities. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified this robot as a biofeedback device, which is subsidized by the Medicare project (the health insurance program of the US federal government for care services. Health) Pay for the purchase and use of the robot as a therapist.

Tom Turner, General Manager of PARO Robots USA, said that since the pandemic “we have seen a lot of interest”. The company sells about 50 seal robots annually and is now expected to see a surge as insurance expands.

The researchers noted benefits from interactions with PARO robots, although the studies were mostly small and short term. In Texas and Kansas, 61 seniors with dementia were followed while holding PARO for 20 minutes, three times a week for three months. The stress and fatigue decreased, they took less pain relievers, and also reduced behavior problems.

Front Porch, a not-for-profit senior living services advocate, bought many PAROs in 2015 and followed about 900 interactive surveys. For more than six months, employees reported that robots help old people calm down, increase their social behavior, improve their emotions, and improve their appetite.

The largest study was from United HealthCare and AARP, distributing Joy for All robot for free to 271 elderly people living alone, and assessed them by questionnaires. Progressive Charlotte Yeh, medical director of AARP Subsidiary and co-chair of the project, said there was “improvement in psychology, motivation and optimism” on the 30th and 60s.

Robots get a lot of attention from Ageless Innovation’s Joy for All brand under Hasbro, retailers such as Walmart and Best Buy, for around $ 120. Angless Innovation Company has reduced robot prices for the elderly.

Becky Preve, CEO of the Association of the Elderly in New York, said the state of New York ordered 1,100 robots. The state of Florida buys 375 pet robots, after several studies have noted reduced loneliness in the elderly.

Ageless Innovation said a total of 6,000 robots were ordered by dozens of states. However, that is only a small amount if Medicare Advantage plans allow private insurance companies to pay for robotic pets. “We are talking to Medicare Advantage organizations,” said Ted Fischer, CEO of Ageless Innovation.

But Sherry Turkle, a psychologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Science, argues that robots do not have feelings for humans, while friendship needs a relationship. Furthermore, the way the elderly react cannot be predicted.

Emily J. Whitite, a social work consultant in Sunnyvale, California, was surprised to find that the 96-year-old mother suffered from dementia and depression, and stopped eating for a long time. She loves the robot cat Joy for All and wants it to eat a piece of cake.

Charlene Spangler can feel the robot dog’s heartbeat, “they seem to be interacting”. However, her caregiver had to repeatedly mention about the existence of the robot dog and remind her to pamper and talk.

“I’m not sure about the effect, but $ 120 is worth a try with my mom,” said Dr. Linda Spangler.

Nguyen Ngoc (Follow NY Times)

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