A bunch of really smart geriatric medicine pros from St. Louis University Medical Center in Missouri headed out to three nursing homes with the goal of figuring out if a robot dog was a decent substitute for the companionship of a real, furry family dog.
Senior citzens at each home had the chance to play with a living, breathing pup named Sparky or a Sony AIBO robot dog, an electronic pet equipped with touch sensors, voice and face recognition and—most surprisingly—the ability to learn from its environment and express emotion.
Before and after a series of 30-minute visits with one of the dogs, each test group of seniors were surveyed on their level of loneliness. A control group with no canine visitors was also surveyed.
So how did they fare? Ask Dr William A. Banks, professor of geriatric medicine at Saint Louis University and the leader of the researchers:
“The most surprising thing is they [the robot dogs] worked almost equally well [as Sparky] in terms of alleviating loneliness and causing residents to form attachments."
Regardless of whether the pooch was battery operated or had a real body and heart, the seniors said they felt less lonely and more attached to their pup than did those who had no canine visits.
Are any of you readers renting "no-pets" apartments? Do you have a robot dog? Would you consider one? Tell us in the comments!