How do "robopets" impact the health and well-being of residents in care homes? A systematic review of qualitative and quantitative evidence

Int J Older People Nurs. 2019 Sep;14(3):e12239. doi: 10.1111/opn.12239. Epub 2019 May 9.


Background: Robopets are small animal-like robots which have the appearance and behavioural characteristics of pets.

Objective: To bring together the evidence of the experiences of staff, residents and family members of interacting with robopets and the effects of robopets on the health and well-being of older people living in care homes.

Design: Systematic review of qualitative and quantitative research.

Data sources: We searched 13 electronic databases from inception to July 2018 and undertook forward and backward citation chasing.

Methods: Eligible studies reported the views and experiences of robopets from residents, family members and staff (qualitative studies using recognised methods of qualitative data collection and analysis) and the effects of robopets on the health and well-being of care home residents (randomised controlled trials, randomised crossover trials and cluster randomised trials). Study selection was undertaken independently by two reviewers. We used the Wallace criteria and the Cochrane Risk of Bias tool to assess the quality of the evidence. We developed a logic model with stakeholders and used this as a framework to guide data extraction and synthesis. Where appropriate, we used meta-analysis to combine effect estimates from quantitative studies.

Results: Nineteen studies (10 qualitative, 2 mixed methods and 7 randomised trials) met the inclusion criteria. Interactions with robopets were described as having a positive impact on aspects of well-being including loneliness, depression and quality of life by residents and staff, although there was no corresponding statistically significant evidence from meta-analysis for these outcomes. Meta-analysis showed evidence of a reduction in agitation with the robopet "Paro" compared to control (-0.32 [95% CI -0.61 to -0.04, p = 0.03]). Not everyone had a positive experience of robopets.

Conclusions: Engagement with robopets appears to have beneficial effects on the health and well-being of older adults living in care homes, but not all chose to engage. Whether the benefits can be sustained are yet to be investigated.

Implications for practice: Robopets have the potential to benefit people living in care homes, through increasing engagement and interaction. With the robopet acting as a catalyst, this engagement and interaction may afford comfort and help reduce agitation and loneliness.

Keywords: Companion animals; dementia; long-term care; older adults; robopets; social robots; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Animals
  • Health Status*
  • Homes for the Aged*
  • Humans
  • Mental Health*
  • Pets / psychology*
  • Quality of Life
  • Robotics*