Best Practice Guidance
Human Interaction with Technology in Dementia

themes: Robotic pets

Practical, cognitive & social factors to improve usability of technology for people with dementia

Technologies are increasingly vital in today’s activities in homes and communities. Nevertheless, little attention has been given to the consequences of the increasing complexity and reliance on them, for example, at home, in shops, traffic situations, meaningful activities and health care services. The users’ ability to manage products and services has been largely neglected or taken for granted. People with dementia often do not use the available technology because it does not match their needs and capacities. This section provides recommendations to improve the usability of technology used in daily life, for meaningful activities, in healthcare and in the context of promoting the Social Health of people with dementia.
Social Health Domain 3: Technology to promote social participation

Pet robot design preferences of people with dementia need further investigation


The design of some existing pet robots for people with dementia do not sufficiently consider their preferences. For example, while some pet robots are designed to resemble unfamiliar animals such as a dinosaur or seal, people with dementia seem to prefer more familiarly designed pets, such as domestic animals like cats and dogs. As little research has been done into pet robot design preferences of people with dementia further investigation is needed.

Explanation and Examples

One of the most researched and used pet robots in dementia care is PARO, a robotic baby harp seal. The developer of PARO anticipated that users are likely to be more accepting of PARO, since they are less likely to have experiences and expectations of a seal. However, Bradwell and colleagues found that older adults including people with dementia have expressed a preference for familiar animals such as cats and dogs. A qualitative study uncovered similar findings – Care providers in nursing homes expressed that residents with dementia may prefer and react better to familiar animals. In line with a person-centred approach to care, the use of pet robots should account for the preferences and needs of people with dementia. However, there is a lack of studies that have explicitly investigated such design preferences. More studies are necessary to bridge this gap.

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Evaluating the effectiveness of specific contemporary technology

The rapid growth of the technological landscape and related new services have the potential to improve the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of health and social services and facilitate social participation and engagement in activities. But which technology is effective and how is this evaluated best? This section provides recommendations to evaluate the effectiveness of technology in daily life, meaningful activities and healthcare services as well as of technologies aimed to promote the Social Health of people with dementia. Examples of useful technologies in some of these areas are provided.

More studies required to investigate the impacts of low-cost pet robots in dementia care


Low-cost pet robots are a promising technology to improve the psychosocial health of people living with dementia. More high quality studies with sufficiently large sample sizes should be conducted to properly investigate their impacts.

Explanation and examples

Pet robots are a technology-based substitute to animal assisted therapy. However, the high costs of many pet robots can hinder the use of pet robots in dementia care. A scoping review was conducted to understand the impact of using lower-cost (more affordable) pet robots. Synthesised findings from nine studies suggested that low-cost pet robots improved the communication, social interactions and other health domains of older adults and people living with dementia. However, most studies had a small sample size and were of varying quality. Moving forward, more rigorous studies are necessary to investigate their impacts.

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Consider using low-cost pet robots to support the psychosocial health of people living with dementia and their caregivers


Low-cost pet robots demonstrate the potential to positively impact the psychosocial health of people with dementia and their caregivers. Due to their lower cost, they may be more accessible and affordable and should therefore be considered for use in dementia care.

Explanation and examples

Although pet robots have demonstrated positive impacts on the wellbeing of people with dementia, their affordability can impede their uptake in dementia care. A scoping review, content analysis of consumer reviews and a qualitative study showed that the impacts of low-cost pet robots on people with dementia resembled the effects of other higher costed (but more advanced) pet robots. These included improved mood, companionship, increased activity engagement and reduced anxiety. Caregivers also experienced knock-on effects, such as feelings of joy and relief. Low-cost pet robots are more widely accessible to the public since they can be purchased off-the-shelf. While promising, findings of their positive impacts are subject to bias. More rigorous studies are necessary to confirm their impacts.

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Implementation of technology in dementia care: facilitators & barriers

Successful implementation of technology in dementia care depends not merely on its effectiveness but also on other facilitating or impeding factors related to e.g. the personal living environment (privacy, autonomy and obtrusiveness); the outside world (stigma and human contact); design (personalisability, affordability and safety), and ethics on these subjects.  This section provides recommendations on the implementation of technology in everyday life, for meaningful activities, healthcare technology and technology promoting Social Health.

Assess, facilitate, tailor, monitor and evaluate the use of pet robots with individual people with dementia to minimise the risk of potential negative impacts


To minimise potential distress and negative impacts from using pet robots, researchers and care providers should assess their suitability for individuals with dementia, and facilitate their use based on each individual’s preference, needs and abilities. As the needs of people with dementia can fluctuate, care providers should also monitor and re-evaluate the use of pet robots.

Explanation and examples

Findings from a scoping review of eight studies showed that some people with dementia did not respond to pet robots. Some had negative responses such as agitation, or became jealous when the robot was shared with other residents in care facilities. An analysis of 1,327 consumer reviews on a low-cost robotic cat showed similar findings. Likewise, interviews with care providers from nursing homes revealed that they had similar experiences. To minimise the risks of potential negative impacts, the use of pet robots for each individual has to be carefully considered. This should encompass:

  • Assessment

    Assess the individual’s preferences, needs, functional abilities and needs (e.g. occupational needs, and physical, cognitive, and sensory abilities). If used in a care setting, consider discussing the use of pet robots with family members.

  • Facilitation and Tailoring

    Based on the assessment, provide facilitation or tailored support to individuals. For example, if the individual has difficulties initiating interactions with the pet robot, consider providing assistance

  • Monitoring & Evaluating

    Monitor and evaluate the individual’s reaction to pet robots, and intervene if the individual shows signs of distress. These observations should be shared with and discussed with other care providers if used in care facilities

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