Real/mechanical dogs tested with oldsters

April 27, 2006 at 5:16 PM
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ST. LOUIS, April 27 (UPI) -- Missouri geriatricians are researching what helps nursing-home residents feel less lonely -- a robotic dog or a real dog.

"Some people believe nursing home residents can get attached to this mechanic animal, and wouldn't it be wonderful not to have the fuss and muss of a living dog," says Dr. William A. Banks, professor of geriatric medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine.

Banks and his wife Marian Banks, who is a nurse and adjunct instructor in geriatrics at Saint Louis University, are comparing how residents interact with both the robotic dog and their real dog, Sparky.

Marian Banks is visiting nursing homes in the St. Louis area for animal-assisted therapy sessions with Sparky. The same nursing-home residents who see Sparky also spend time with the Japanese robotic pet, Aibo.

The nursing-home residents will spend weekly sessions for two months interacting with each critter and then rank their attachment and loneliness.

The mechanical dog is about 9 inches tall, has a hard-shell body and makes noises and lights up in response to human interaction.

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