Reducing Loneliness in Mentally Healthy Senior Citizens through Robotic Companionship
Researchers of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the UMC Amsterdam (VUmc) together with experts of Deloitte Consultancy will collaborate and investigate how people relate and affectively bond to a social robot and what the effects on loneliness and the quality of life of (lonely) older adults will be.
Loneliness is considered an important risk-factor for mortality and health problems among older people whereas social support acts as protective factor. Given an ageing society - the number of older adults aged 80 years and older will increase by 170% in coming years -, shrinking budget and shortage of personnel, the goal to have senior citizens live independently in their own homes as long as possible is challenged. Relating to others and reducing loneliness is key to keep up to this challenge when ageing. Ongoing research indicates that humanoid robots may fulfil such a task, at least partly.
No theory yet explains why and under which circumstances people may perceive such a robot as a conversation partner and actually bond to it. The recent Theory of Affective Bonding aims to fill this gap by integrating various perspectives. In a Randomised Control Trial where a newly developed social robot will accompany senior citizens for several weeks, measuring bonding-factors, loneliness, well-being, quality of life and health, before, during and after the robotic intervention. Crucially, hormonal levels of cortisol and oxytocin will be assessed, as both appear to be related to loneliness.
The results will help in furthering options to support self-management of senior citizens and increase their quality of life by reducing loneliness. Even if the study does not result in the expected effects, it will be providing important information regarding how to improve a social robot for companionship and giving important insights in future research in this highly relevant domain.