A robot is better than a real pet?
I was be speaking earlier this month on a Community and Digital Care seminar in Singapore organized by APARA on the use of technology to combat cognitive deterioration. I participated in a radio panel discussion at the end of the seminar with some top-class international doctors. In the preparation session, we talked about therapeutic robots, which are used in dementia care. When Paro-robot arrived in Finland, there was a lengthy discussion on its use and whether it is ethically appropriate that a person grows attached to a robot. I think that it is the persons experience that matters. That is, if it reduces inappropriate patient stress or improves the relaxation of the client, its use is well worthwhile.
As we discussed the issue, there were valid points on how a therapeutic robot could be better than a real pet.
- Walking a dog or other per could become a problem. What if a person with a memory disability is unable to find their way back home? Or perhaps walking the pet cannot be done due to deterioration of the elderly’s mobility. What if the pet needs to be put down because of it? On the other hand, the need to walk the pet help the owner stay in better shape too.
- Taking care of a pet is difficult. Pet could end up in trouble if a person with dementia forgets to feed the animal. Additionally, forgetting to take care of the litter box could create sanitization problems in the apartment.
- Maintaining and feeding the pet costs continually money. It is easy to budget for feeding and other maintenance, but unplanned expenses, such as vet bills are harder to estimate. The costs of therapeutic robots are known well in advance, and there will not be surprises.
- Lifespan of a pet is short. One of the points favouring the robot was about the pet’s death. Depending on a pet, their lifespans are of different lengths. Fish in an aquarium only last few years, cats, and dogs possibly longer. In the worst-case scenario, a person with dementia will have to face the pet’s death, and it will not be easier for him or her than for the rest of us.
A bit simplified, but anyway.
The possibilities are limitless
I also asked for a comment from Annikka Immonen, who has created a lot of our program contents regarding our care for memory illness and dementia. She emphasized that “the technology we use in our everyday lives, should enforce and deepen our experiences in our daily lives. In the best-case scenario, it is not detached from our day-to-day activities, but instead intertwined with them.” So well said.
In the radio interview, Dr Oren Fuerst talked about the benefits of using companion robot instead of a pet. He noted that you cannot play chess with a pet, cannot have a discussion, nor will it remind you to take your medication. The possibilities are almost limitless, just depending on our imagination.
Surprisingly, there were good arguments favouring therapeutic robots instead of real pets. On the other hand, the intimacy created by a pet and the connections they have into our lives are also meaningful. The best solution varies in each case, for some, it might be a combination, but as with everything in this world, this is not black and white either. To be considered.
Chair of the board