Search our Blog

Search our Blog

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Robot Pets for Lonely Older Adults

Facing isolation from pandemic-induced quarantines and worry about the safety of their health, older adults turn to tech devices to relieve loneliness. 

Wagging his tail, big brown eyes softly shining, the dog lies patiently in the lap of an older adult. When he’s petted behind his ears, he leans in for more. And he never soils the carpet or needs to be walked. That’s because he is a Tombot, a robotic puppy in development for older adults with dementia. These companion “animals” are increasingly being considered for use with older adults who have limited human interaction due to fears of COVID-19 contamination.

As adults age, the problem of loneliness increases; a 2018 study found that a third of adults over 45 felt lonely. And those who are lonely and isolated socially tend to have more health problems. Pets have been proven to be valuable companions, but many older adults lack the ability to provide necessary care for an animal. Enter technology.

Robots to the Rescue

Robotic cats, dogs and even seals have been created to respond to touch, motion and sound. Studies show that they reduce stress and provide increased engagement with both the older adult and their environment.

“What we saw from the robotic, interactive pets project is that it appeared to provide our day care participants with a companion that prompted them to speak to the pet often as well as share their feelings,” said one researcher. “Participants seemed to believe that the pet was responding to their statements through meowing, turning their head, or blinking their eyes, and that they were ‘having a conversation’ with the pet.”

You can watch older adults interacting with the pets in a YouTube news report about a care service that offers a robotic pet on visits.


One limiting factor can be the cost of the robotic pets, some of which are quite advanced. Sony’s Aibo robot dog arrives complete with facial recognition and internet connectivity for $2,900. Paro the seal sports five types of sensors and can learn to behave in a way the user prefers. But you will have to part with several thousand dollars for the privilege.

A pair of companies recognized the need for a less expensive version that wasn’t overly simplistic. Tombot’s pup retails for $500, and Ageless Innovation’s Joy for All cats and dogs, although marginally less realistic, can be had for $100. They focus on a smaller set of realistic behaviors: head movements, facial expressions, and tail wagging.

While the love and attention of caregivers and others cannot be replaced, the robotic companions are a boon for older adults who spend time alone. Even those who have never owned an animal often react positively when the “pet” is introduced. In these trying times, it is nice to have another option to help Mom or Dad feel like they have a friend.

Click below for the other articles in the July 2020 Senior Spirit


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors