A Pet Called Paro

Some seniors are isolated with no visitors and with social contacts usually limited to nursing homes’ staff. Why not then have them be comforted by a robot disguised as a pet, in this case a furry animal called Paro? Some have Alzheimers’ and find it easy to relate to a pet, robot or not. The pet robot idea has also been tried with some children with autism and shown to be successful. To make their case, advocates ask, “Isn’t it better isolated people relate to a robot rather than stare at walls or television for hours?” Perhaps. Yet, I recall sitting on a bench at the beach near a group of seniors discussing what turned out to be soap opera characters as if they were members of their own families. And at the time I remember thinking, how sad. After reading about robots, I now question whether treating soap opera characters as family may not have advantages I hadn’t previously acknowledged. I grant there are instances such as those with some patients with Alzheimer’s or autism where using robots is clever and appropriate. But I am concerned that using robots with seniors in nursing homes may become the easy way out and keep us from looking at other solutions. For example, could some young people be given opportunities to volunteer? What about other seniors looking for meaningful activities. It takes work to recruit such people and even more to motivate them. But ultimately wouldn’t it build a better society?