Companions for Life: How Robot Pets are Reducing Loneliness Among Older Adults


Japan has long been at the forefront of robotics, and its solution for easing the burden of an aging population lies in its robot pets. Paro, a robotic seal, rose to fame in the early 2000s and remains the most well-known form of therapy robot for older adults. Designed to mimic the behavior of a real mammal, Paro is a bundle of joy for those who interact with it.

The Japanese government has invested significant resources in robotics, recognizing its potential to alleviate the strain on the caregiving system. With 29% of Japan’s population aged 65 or over, the country is well-advantaged in this regard. However, researchers believe that other countries, such as the United States, could benefit from similar investment.

The US has an aging demographic, with 62 million Americans, or 18% of the population, presently aged 65 or over. Despite this, the country has been lagging behind Japan in terms of investing in robotics for the elderly.

New York state’s Office for the Aging has been working to change that. Since 2018, the department has hand-delivered over 31,000 robot pets to older New Yorkers. Acting Director Greg Olsen credits his daughter’s purchase of a robotic pet for inspiring the program’s inception.

The robot pets under the Joy for All brand resemble real animals, including dogs and birds. They respond to light and sound, providing a sense of companionship for owners. Research has shown that companionship can significantly reduce loneliness among older adults.

Loneliness and isolation can have devastating effects, being linked to reduced life expectancy and accelerated cognitive decline. The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the issue. Robot pets show promise in combating loneliness, especially where human interaction is limited.

While it’s crucial to note that no solution can replace human interaction, evidence suggests that robotic pets can have an insignificant impact on mental health. Participants with robotic pets reported reduced depressive symptoms and increased feelings of companionship without the risks associated with medication.

New partnerships between tech companies and organizations serve as a testament to the growing reliance on robotics in eldercare. The NYSOFA’s work continues to show the potential benefits of providing robot pets to older adults, many of whom have formed strong bonds with them.

Brian Heater
Brian Heater
Hardware Editor. Brian has worked for a number of leading tech publications, including Engadget, PCMag, Laptop, and Tech Times, where he served as the Managing Editor. His writing has appeared in Spin, Wired, Playboy, Entertainment Weekly, The Onion, Boing Boing, Publishers Weekly, The Daily Beast and various other publications. He has also appeared as a regular NPR contributor.

Latest stories


Related Articles

Leave a reply

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here
Captcha verification failed!
CAPTCHA user score failed. Please contact us!
Continue on app