Robot animals make strides in therapeutic patient care

It turns out not all robots are devoid of feelings--new studies show that robotic animals may have the same benefits as regular companion animals, and the use of robotic animals can help with dementia patients. 

Published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, a new study titled "Self-Other's Perspective Taking: The Use of Therapeutic Robot Companions as Social Agents for Reducing Pain and Anxiety in Pediatric Patients" features lead author Sandra Okita of Columbia University who aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of robotic companions to reduce feelings of pain among pediatric patients.

She reported that when a child and parent were together during robot therapy sessions, the patients' pain ratings decreased, but there was no decrease in pain ratings without the parent present. With parent and child together, the child's pain decreased as the patient's did, called "parental modeling."

"It will be useful to explore in future studies whether the benefit of parental modeling exhibited during the interactions is maintained long-term," says Brenda Wiederhold, Editor-in-Chief of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, in an announcement. "It will also be important to understand how we may lower pain and anxiety in children without the presence of their parents, which is of course not always feasible in a hospital setting."

Robot animals also have also found a role in helping dementia patients, according to Wendy Moyle, a professor at Griffith University in Australia.

For instance, Paro, a therapeutic robotic seal developed by researchers at Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, has sensors and moves its tail and flippers. Preliminary research has found that Paro reduces anxiety, improves mood states, and stimulates and engages dementia patients.

According to Moyle, a seal was chosen because it is a "neutral" animal, and it's capable of emotion. "Paro can show various emotions including surprise, happiness and anger, and Paro will cry if it is not receiving sufficient attention."

Robot technology has made strides for stroke patients, too. Researchers from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst recently found success in the case of a robot that delivered speech and physical therapy to a 72-year-old stroke patient.

To learn more:
- read the announcement
- read the Moyle interview