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Faux Fido eases loneliness in nursing home residents as well as real dog, SLU study finds
Date:2/25/2008

ST. LOUIS -- A sophisticated robotic dog could be a good companion for your dog-loving grandmother who cant care for a living pet, a new Saint Louis University study suggests.

The researchers compared how residents of three nursing homes interacted with Sparky, a living, medium-sized gentle mutt, and Aibo, a doggie robot once manufactured by Sony that looks like a three-dimensional cartoon.

The most surprising thing is they worked almost equally well in terms of alleviating loneliness and causing residents to form attachments, says William A. Banks, M.D., professor of geriatric medicine at Saint Louis University.

For those people who cant have a living pet but who would like to have a pet, robotics could address the issue of companionship, Banks says.

To test whether residents connected better with Sparky or Aibo, researchers divided a total of 38 nursing home residents into three groups. All were asked questions to assess their level of loneliness. One group saw Sparky once a week for 30 minutes, another group had similar visits with Aibo, and a control group saw neither furry nor mechanical critter.

During visits, Marian Banks, Banks wife and co-researcher, brought Sparky or Aibo into a residents room and placed the pet companion near the resident. Both pets interacted with residents -- wagging their tails and responding to the people they visited.

After seven weeks, all residents were asked questions about how lonely they felt and how attached they were to Sparky or Aibo.

The residents who received visits from real and artificial pooches felt less lonely and more attached to their canine attention-givers than those who got visits from neither.

There was no statistical difference between whether the real or robotic dog did a better job easing loneliness and fostering attachments.

Whether powered by a beating heart or by a rechargeable battery, dogs can be powerful weapons in he
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Contact: Nancy Solomon
solomonn@slu.edu
314-977-8017
Saint Louis University
Source:Eurekalert

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