St. Louis (MO) - Sony's robotic Aibo dog is just as effective as a real dog in curing loneliness. According to a study conducted by the St. Louis University, elderly patients in a nursing home became attached to the dog after several weeks of playing with the non-pooping plastic pet.
The study split 38 nursing home residents into 3 groups. One group played with a real dog "Sparky" for 30 minutes a week, while another had the Aibo for the same amount of time. The control group unfortunately had nothing (no dog for you!). After seven weeks, the residents were surveyed about their feelings of loneliness and attachment. Surprisingly both the Aibo and Sparky groups benefitted equally from their canine companions, according William A. Banks MD and professor of geriatric medicine at the university.
Robot dogs could eventually be regular companions to the elderly because they are easy to care for. You don't have to feed them because the Aibo can automatically find the recharging cradle and they don't poop or pee all over your furniture. The robotic dogs also obviously don't shed like real dogs. Banks says robotic companions could also be programmed to give alerts if the patient falls down or if he/she hasn't taken their medicine.
Banks' research has been published in the March issue of the Journal of the America Directors Association.