Robotic pets for use with dementia patients
People with dementia often develop problems to communicate with other people. Contacts with domestic pets, however, are often less complicated for them. For this reason, pets are employed to stimulate social interaction and well-being. If this is not allowed by the given institutional arrangements, robotic pets can be used instead. At present only little information is available on the reactions of persons concerned as well as on what to consider when using robotic pets with dementia patients.
Within the scope of the Land OÖ (i.e. the Federal Government of the province of Upper Austria) funded project “Robot-assisted intervention for dementia patients“ in Upper Austrian nursing and retirement homes“ by Diakoniewerk OÖ and LIFEtool, caregivers will cautiously select approximately 24 residents of Diakoniewerk OÖ geriatric facilities on the basis of their biographies and diagnosis. These dementia patients will be provided with a robotic pet of the brand “joy for all“ for individual use. If requested, the robotic pets can remain with the residents or the visitors even after the project has finished. The University of Applied Sciences for Health Professions Upper Austria was contracted to evaluate the project using an observational study and to offer initial responses to reactions of dementia patients and to caregivers‘ experiences.
a) Controlled observational study with 2 points of measurement (prior to the beginning of the study and after 12 weeks of use): quality of life parameters (affect, behaviour, social relationships) compiled by QUALIDEM, both robotic pets group and control group with 20 test persons each.
b) “within subject design“: participant observation; 5 to 10-minute-interaction with observer, 15 to 20-minute-interaction with cat/dog, instrument: QUALIDEM serves as a basis (8 test persons).
c) “single case study (qualitative design)“: participant observation, 6 interactions with 1 test person – for each visit 1-3 different types of application.
d) “content analysis (qualitative design)”: 8 semi-structured interviews (guided interviews), 30 minutes each in duration, with caregivers who have experienced the robotic pets in use for 4 weeks.
These surveys form the basis to define the therapeutic use of robotic pets in more detail, and thus to have a positive impact on the health and well-being of persons concerned.
Dr.in Renate Ruckser-Scherb MSc MEdAcademic Staff, Research Coordinator, Curia Academic Staff