Some UK care homes are considering using robots that can have simple conversations with elderly inmates, soon after an international trial found they boost mental health and reduce loneliness, according to The Guardian.
The “pepper” robot plays residents’ favorite music, teaches them languages and provides practical assistance, including medical reminders such as medication appointments and regular checkups.
The researchers from the University of Bedfordshire said the experiment was not aimed at exploring the replacement of human caregivers with robots but to help fill in loneliness periods when employees are out of work.
The trial, conducted in the United Kingdom and Japan, found that elderly people in care homes who interacted with bots for up to 18 hours over a two-week period had a significant improvement in mental health and there was a small but positive effect on loneliness among users.
According to the report, the experiment is part of a £2.3 million research project funded by the European Commission and the Japanese government.
The initiative comes amid the ongoing employment crisis in UK care homes exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 18,000 residents having died of confirmed or suspected Covid-19.
The Guardian revealed that a single robot in the program costs about £19,000, equivalent to £1,000 more than the average salary for a care worker in southeast England. But it may help create deeper, higher-quality relationships with older adults in care homes.
“In the UK alone, there are 15,000 people over the age of 100, and that number is only going to increase,” said Irina Papadopoulos, professor of health and nursing at Middlesex University. It can support existing care systems