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Robots have positive effect on seniors at nursing care facilities: study

In this undated photo, a senior converses with a cat robot at a care facility. (Photo courtesy of Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development)

Robots that can interact with humans were found to be effective in increasing the autonomy and activity of 34 percent of seniors at care facilities, a research team with the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development announced on May 30.

    The results come from a nationwide survey of seniors interacting with robots that take the form of animals or children. Robots can assist care staff by responding to human movements, providing suggestions like "Should we move around a bit?" and giving quizzes and offering other stimuli. There had been reports that these kinds of robots made the seniors in facilities smile more, but up until now, there has been almost no objective data to confirm their effectiveness.

    The research team used roughly 1,000 robots of 17 different varieties, including the human robot "Pepper" and the baby harp seal robot "Paro," and investigated their effect on a total of about 900 men and women over the age of 65 in 98 nursing care facilities nationwide for 16 weeks each. The survey was conducted from August 2016 to March 2017. The team introduced the World Health Organization's (WHO) International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health as a standard to quantify factors such as the physical condition and degree of daily activity of participants.

    Among the results, some elderly patients who had previously done almost nothing but sleep got out of bed and began walking at the call of a robot. Overall, 34 percent of the participants showed an improvement. In as much as 39 percent of those cases, the improvement was in basic activities, such as eating meals, going to the toilet and maintenance of their personal appearance. In the case of a cat robot that meowed when touched, the patients would carry the cat around, leading to more conversations with surrounding people and the patients becoming more active as a result.

    Team member and researcher in residence at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology Yayoi Okawa stated, "We were able to provide evidence that robots make a difference in the autonomy and activeness in the lifestyle of the elderly. I hope that these results will be used to increase senior's quality of life."

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