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Older adults are more likely to accept social robots if the robots are useful and have the ability to interact with users in a humanlike manner

Whelan S, Murphy K, Barrett E, et al.  Factors affecting the acceptability of social robots by older adults including people with dementia or cognitive impairment: A literature review  International Journal of Social Robotics. 2018: 1-26

Review question

•    What factors affect how older adults (including those with dementia or cognitive impairment) perceive social robots?

Background

      People with dementia experience memory problems, mood changes, and difficulties completing daily tasks. People with mild cognitive impairment only have minor problems with memory or thinking, but they are also more likely than the general population to develop dementia later.

      Researchers have developed social robots, which are robots that can interact with humans in a socially acceptable manner, to help care for older adults. These robots can be useful for people with dementia or cognitive impairment in different ways. For example, some social robots are designed to provide company and reduce feelings of loneliness, while other robots can complete daily tasks (for example, making phone calls).

      It is important identify what factors affect how older adults perceive social robots. Knowing these factors can help researchers design social robots that are more likely to be accepted and used by older adults.

How the review was done

      A detailed search of a number of electronic databases for studies published between 2005 and 2015 was conducted. English studies that focused on the opinions of older adults about social robots were included in the review.

      A total of 198 studies were identified in searches, and 44 studies were included in the review after assessments for eligibility.

      This review was funded by the European Union through the Horizon 2020 Programme.

What the researchers found

      Older adults liked robots that could detect and respond to a person’s emotional needs. Specifically, they liked robots that had facial expressions and could follow human social norms, like respecting the user’s personal space.

      Older adults were also more likely to accept the robots if the robots helpfully addressed their social, environmental and psychological needs. However, it can be difficult to identify the needs of people with dementia or cognitive impairment, as such people might be unable to recognize or communicate what they need or may be unwilling to admit that they need help.

      Opinions about social robots were often influenced by the opinions of the users’ significant others.

      Findings from the systematic review were not conclusive. Research on this topic is still in its very early stages. Most studies only asked for opinions from a small group of people.

Conclusion

      While the review was able to identify a few factors that may influence older adults’ perceptions about social robots, these findings should be taken with caution as very few studies have explored this issue yet.




Glossary

Cognitive impairment
Trouble remembering, learning new things, concentrating, or making decisions that affect everyday life.
Systematic review
A comprehensive evaluation of the available research evidence on a particular topic.

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DISCLAIMER These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (info@mcmasteroptimalaging.org).

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