Sept. 16 (UPI) -- A study jointly funded by the European Union and Japanese government suggests robots programmed with the ability to carry on conversations can positively impact the mental health of seniors in care homes.
The authors of the CARESSES study said a "culturally competent robot" named Pepper was tested on residents of elderly care homes in Britain and Japan over the course of three years. Pepper's artificial intelligence was designed to allow the robot to carry on culturally specific conversations with seniors.
Residents who interacted with Pepper for up to 18 hours over the course of two weeks "saw a significant improvement in their mental health" as well as "a small but positive impact on loneliness severity," the study's authors said.
Chris Papadopoulos, a public health lecturer at Britain's University of Bedfordshire and the lead researcher in the study, said the findings have become even more timely amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"When we kicked off the project it was clear that loneliness in older adults was a really big problem that is increasing all the time and one that we were keen to tackle," Papadopoulos told CNN. "Social care is incredibly stretched and we have an aging society."
"Of course we could never have predicted how relevant this issue has become today, where we have enforced isolation in many care homes and selective isolation for many others which has resulted in feelings of loneliness," he said. "Our system really couldn't have come at a better time to try and reduce some of those issues."
Papadopoulos said researchers estimate it will be another two or three years of research and development before the robots can be introduced to nursing homes and other facilities on a full-time basis.