The Impact of a Robotic Pet on Social and Physical Frailty in Community-Dwelling Older Adults during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Social and physical frailty are common geriatric syndromes related to adverse health outcomes, including falls, hospitalization, institutionalization, and death. Social frailty leads to physical frailty in older adults who were not frail. Previous studies have demonstrated that pet ownership and robotic pets have physical and mental health benefits for older adults; however, no studies were found investigating the impact of robotic pets on social and physical frailty in community-dwelling older adults. The purpose of this study was to investigate the impact of a robotic pet on social and physical frailty in community-dwelling older adults using the Technology Acceptance Model as a framework. This was a clinical trial of adults aged 65 and over, hospitalized at a community hospital in Westchester County, New York. Intervention group participants received a robotic pet, and control group participants received usual post-discharge care. Participants were assessed at enrollment and at the 30-day discharge point using the Questionnaire to Define Social Frailty Status, FRAIL Questionnaire, the Geriatric Depression Scale Short Form, and the Short Portable Mental Status Questionnaire. For this study ,220 participants were enrolled; 107 in the intervention group and 113 in the control group. Continuous outcomes were compared between groups using t-tests or Wilcoxon rank sum tests, as appropriate. Categorical outcomes were compared between groups using chi-square tests or Fisher’s exact tests, as appropriate. The threshold for statistical significance was considered a p value of less than 0.05. There was no significant change in social frailty or physical frailty, cognitive status, or depression between the two groups. Participants who enjoyed doing things with their robotic pet had a statistically significant improvement in their SPMSQ scores (p = 0.02), which indicated a positive effect on cognition in participants who used their pet more. Prevalence of social frailty was high, likely attributable to pandemic control measures and unlikely to change on the social frailty questionnaire used in this study due to the ongoing pandemic. In contrast to this study, previous research has shown that robotic pets were effective for improving well-being in older adults and showed more positive impact in a group setting compared to individual use. A significant limitation of this study was that it took place during the COVID-19 pandemic. Other limitations were related to self-report of some measures which may introduce bias. Additionally, the social frailty questionnaire has not been validated in diverse populations; thus, its validity in the study population is not known. The geographic area where the study took place is non-diverse, which may impact generalizability to wider populations. The robotic pet positively impacted cognitive status in participants who reported they enjoyed doing activities with their pet. This supports the theoretical premise of this study that greater use of the robotic pet would yield greater benefit. Regarding implications, technology is an important tool to ameliorate social and physical frailty, especially in light of pandemic-related restrictions where in-person socialization is restricted. More research is needed on the impact of robotic pets in older adults living at home, particularly on social frailty, loneliness, and cognitive status, with larger sample sizes and diverse populations.
Pollak, Chava, "The Impact of a Robotic Pet on Social and Physical Frailty in Community-Dwelling Older Adults during the COVID-19 Pandemic" (2021). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI28542480.
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