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Assistive social robots in elderly care: a review

J. Broekens, M. Heerink, H. Rosendal

Gerontechnology 2009; 8(2):94-103 doi:


Assistive social robots, a particular type of assistive robotics designed for social interaction with humans, could play an important role with respect to the health and psychological well-being of the elderly. Objectives Assistive social robots are believed to be useful in eldercare for two reasons, a functional one and an affective one. Such robots are developed to function as an interface for the elderly with digital technology, and to help increase the quality of life of the elderly by providing companionship, respectively. There is a growing attention for these devices in the literature. However, no comprehensive review has yet been performed to investigate the effectiveness of such robots in the care of the elderly. Therefore, we systematically reviewed and analyzed existing literature on the effects of assistive social robots in health care for the elderly. We focused in particular on the companion function. Data Sources A systematic search of MEDLINE, CINAHL, PsycINFO, The Cochrane Library databases, IEEE, ACM libraries and finally Google Scholar was performed for records through December 2007 to identify articles of all studies with actual subjects aimed to assess the effects of assistive social robots on the elderly. This search was completed with information derived from personal expertise, contacts and reports. Study Selection and Data Extraction Since no randomized controlled trials (RCT)’s have been found within this field of research, all studies reporting effects of assistive robotics in elderly populations were included. Information on study design, interventions, controls, and findings were extracted for each article. In medical journals only a few articles were found, whereas about 50 publications were found in literature on ICT and robotics. Data Synthesis The identified studies were all published after 2000 indicating the novelty of this area of research. Most of these publications contain the results of studies that report positive effects of assistive social robots on health and psychological well-being of elders. Solid evidence indicating that these effects can indeed be attributed to the actual assistive social robot, its behavior and its functionality is scarce. Conclusions There is some qualitative evidence as well as limited quantitative evidence of the positive effects of assistive social robots with respect to the elderly. The research designs, however, are not robust enough to establish this. Confounding variables often cannot be excluded. This is partly due to the chosen research designs, but also because it is unclear what research methodology is adequate to investigate such effects. Therefore, more work on methods is needed as well as robust, large-scale studies to establish the effects of these devices.
Keywords: Assistive robotics; companion robot; Aibo; Paro; Huggable; iCat

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Gerontechnology (ISSN/EISSN 1569-1101 1569-111X) is the official journal of the International Society for Gerontechnology