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`Pepper` robot assistant with information screen in duty to give information to audience

Robots found to improve mental health and loneliness in older people

Image credit: Rattanachai Mokngam/Dreamstime

A study has found that social robots can improve mental health and have the potential to reduce loneliness in older people. This could pave way for the introduction of the technology in UK care homes.

The study, conducted by researchers that the University of Bedfordshire, Middlesex University and Advinia Health Care, is the first time experts have collaborated to explore the possibility of developing culturally competent robots.

In the study, robots were tested in care homes across the UK. Here, they found that older adults who used the culturally competent robot, Pepper, for up to 18 hours across two weeks saw a significant improvement in their mental health.

After two weeks of using the system, the researchers said there was a small but positive impact on loneliness severity among users and the system had a significant positive impact on participants’ attitudes towards robots.

“This study is ground-breaking because it is the largest-ever investigation into the use of autonomous social robots for older adults in care settings,” said Dr Chris Papadopoulos from the University of Bedfordshire. 

“The results show that using the Caresses artificial intelligence in robots such as Pepper has real potential benefit to a world that is witnessing more people living longer with fewer people to look after them.”

Papadopoulos added that poor mental health and loneliness are significant health concerns, but the study demonstrated that robots can help alleviate these stresses. 

Pepper the robot with an elderly man

Pepper the robot with an elderly man

Image credit: University of Bedfordshire/PA Media

Irena Papadopoulos, professor of transcultural health and nursing at Middlesex University, was responsible for developing the cultural concepts and guidelines so that the robots were able to respond to the culture-specific needs and preferences of older people.

“Socially assistive, intelligent robots for older people could relieve some pressures in hospitals and care homes,” she said. “No-one is talking about replacing humans – the evaluation demonstrates that we are a long way from doing that – but it also reveals that robots could support existing care systems.”

Dr Sanjeev Kanoria, surgeon and chairman of Advinia Health Care (one of the largest providers of dementia care in the UK), said that these robots were tested in their facilities and improvements in functionality were made following trials at Advinia care homes. 

“This is the only artificial intelligence that can enable open-ended communication with a robot and a vulnerable resident,” he said. “We are working towards implementing this into the routine care of vulnerable people to reduce anxiety and loneliness and provide continuity of care.”

In January, scientists in Japan developed a control method that could help better replicate human movement when lifting and moving a patient in care.

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