Robotic Cats May Be Able to Help Isolated Dementia Patients

The COVID-19 crisis has created a lot of complications in recent times. For instance, it has increased the isolation of a wide range of individuals who cannot access the services that are meant to support their health as well as other aspects of their well-being. However, the involved parties have come up with various solutions for this particular problem, with an excellent example being the provision of robot cats for dementia patients.

In short, Christine Hasey is a 53-year-old woman with dementia caused by Reye’s syndrome. Very recently, she received a robot cat from Florida Atlantic University’s Louis and Anne Green Memory & Wellness Center, which have already been used to treat dementia as well as Alzheimer’s disease patients on-campus but are now being tested for their effectiveness at alleviating the increased isolation caused by the novel coronavirus. So far, the robot cat seems to have brought about considerable improvements in Hasey’s condition, which is very much in line with the results of previous tests conducted under previous settings. On the whole, it is an excellent example of how improving robotics can be used to better the lives of not just dementia patients but also a wide range of other people with other struggles in day-to-day living.

Why Are Robots Well-Suited For Such Tasks?

Here are some of the reasons that robot caregivers are expected to see more use in the times to come:

More Need for Caregiving – A lot of countries in the developed world have aging populations. Combined with the fact that older people tend to have more medical issues, this means that there is going to be a huge increase in the need for caregiving. It seems safe to say that said countries are going to use various ways to make more caregiving capabilities available. One example would be encouraging more people to become healthcare professionals. Another example would be encouraging more healthcare professionals to immigrate from other countries. However, the use of robots is another potential solution that will see more and more use as robotics becomes more and more advanced, which could become a particularly popular option for those countries that aren’t very good at dealing with immigrants. Something that cannot change without a serious commitment for which there may or may not be the political will.

Consistency – One of the biggest upsides of robots compared to humans is their consistency. Basically, robots can be relied upon to perform the same tasks under the same circumstances over and over, which is a kind of consistency that humans cannot hope to match. This can be very beneficial, particularly since caregiver burnout is such a common issue. For those who are unfamiliar, caregiver burnout is when a caregiver becomes fatigued and hopeless because of the demand that their duties place upon them, which can be aggravated by factors such as confusion over their roles, a lack of control over their circumstances, and unrealistic expectations about how much their efforts can help when it comes to certain medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. In any case, robots shouldn’t be susceptible to any of these issues, thus enabling them to remain consistent when it comes to their caregiving.

Low Cost – Speaking of which, robots are also low-maintenance and otherwise low-cost in a way that living beings cannot be. For instance, consider the example of the robot cat used to help Hasey. Theoretically, a real cat could’ve provided her with the same kind of companionship for the same kind of results. However, a real cat would’ve come with a whole host of needs such as food, water, and exercise. Something that could very well increase rather than decrease the burden placed upon the person in need of caregiving and their family members. In contrast. robots are much easier to satisfy in this regard.

Support Independence – Generally speaking, people value their independence. Most people are less than enthused by the thought of going to either a nursing home or some similar institution. Furthermore, most people aren’t that much happier about strangers coming to their homes to help them with various day-to-day tasks. Robot caregivers could be the right solution for people who don’t want human help but could nonetheless benefit from some assistance from time to time.

Companionship – Humans are very fond of anthropomorphizing things. For proof, look no further than the fact that people see human faces in everything from geographical features to potato chips. Unsurprisingly, this means that we like to anthropomorphize robots as well, which has very positive implications for our ability to derive a sense of companionship from them.

Having said that, there are still some serious issues that need to be overcome before robots can reach their full potential as supplemental companions. For example, modern robots are still incapable of a wide range of tasks that most humans can handle without issue, thus limiting their helpfulness. Likewise, it is amusing to note that robots need to be either human-looking or not very human-looking for them to make decent companions. For those who are curious, there is a phenomenon called the uncanny valley that comes into effect as something becomes more human-looking and more human-looking but vanishes as soon as that something becomes fully human-looking. This is an issue because the uncanny valley causes people to become creeped out, which explains why bad CGI can sometimes be so unnerving. No one knows why this phenomenon exists, but there has been speculation that it is caused by an instinct to avoid the sick as well as other people who might be considered “off” for some reason.

Meanwhile, robots don’t need to be very human-looking for humans to anthropomorphize them, as shown by how it is common for people to name their Roombas as well as assume that their Roombas possess personalities. For that matter, there are plenty of stories about military personnel growing attached to their military robots, so much so that they have been known to hold funerals for them when they have been destroyed.

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