60-Second Tech

Robotic Companion Animal Comforts Dementia Sufferers

A small group of people with mid- to late-stage dementia appeared happier and less anxious after spending time with a robotic animal programmed to respond to touch and sound. Larry Greenemeier reports

In the 2012 movie Robot & Frank, an elderly man suffering from dementia is given an artificially intelligent robot to help him survive on his own as his condition worsens. [Movie audio: "My program's goal is to improve your health."]

The movie's scenario may be here soon. A team of international researchers recently found that a therapeutic robot companion improved the quality of life for a small group of people with mid- to late-stage dementia.

In the real-life case, the robotic companion was made to look like a harp seal. It was fitted with AI software and tactile sensors that enabled it to respond to touch and sound. The robot could express surprise, happiness or anger and even respond to certain words. Patients who spent time with the robot seemed happier and less anxious. [Wendy Moyle et al., Exploring the Effect of Companion Robots on Emotional Expression in Older Adults with Dementia: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial, in Journal of Gerontological Nursing]

In fact, the robotic seal offered patients a similar comforting presence as real animals do when introduced to patients living in extended-care facilities. Except the patients didn’t have to feed the fake seal Arctic Cod or clean up after it.

Frank would approve.

[Movie audio: “I need him.” “What do you need him for?” “He’s my friend.”]

—Larry Greenemeier

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

Rights & Permissions
Share this Article:


You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

Starting Thanksgiving

Enter code: HOLIDAY 2015
at checkout

Get 20% off now! >


Email this Article