The Cat that Isn’t: Loneliness in an Ageing Population

Alan is the cat that isn’t. In fact, he is one of many cats that aren’t. He is a robot cat that is part of Hasbro’s new Joy for All Range (buy here).
These cats have been specifically designed as a companion pet for the elderly. Jim McGuckin, living in Lake Park – a care home for the elderly – was introduced to Alan by the journalist who named him. Jim found that Alan felt like a real cat to the extent he could ‘feel the movements inside’.

The robocat is designed to mimic a real cat without any of the care needed by the real thing. The cat is soft and fluffy, purrs and miaows. Although not entirely convincing the journalist claims that when you turn the cat on ‘you instinctively say hello!’. Through a variety of sensors the robocat interacts with the human. The lack of predictable reactions making it more realistic. This robocat is more than just a pet for those not allowed or without the capability to look after the real thing. Robocat is a much needed companion to the elderly generation in our ageing population.

Research suggests that robotic pets can help those suffering from Alzheimers or dementia. Paro, a robotic seal designed by a Japanese company, is already in use as a companion pet used internationally including the British NHS. Where therapy animals can only be used for a finite amount of time during the day, a robot companion pet can be there full time. For those experiencing 24 hour care it can be empowering to have something to look after, it provides a much needed sense of independence and company.

One great accomplishment of the 21st century is our increased life expectancy. Unfortunately government findings suggest this will start causing problems due to an ageing population. The Office of National Statistics found that in mid-2014 the UK population reached it’s oldest age with the median age being 40 years (for more click here). An ever older population necessitates an increase in health provision to match, hence the need for a robot menagery. What really concerns me is that the current solution to an ageing population and loneliness the provision of robot animals. Why are robots the go-to solution? Why aren’t we replacing the need for human contact with precisely that? In our technologically advanced world I worry about this lack of face-to-face human contact. Surely the solution is to provide better social networks and social capital for the ageing population. To my mind the solution is not leaving the elderly as they are with the addition of a robot animal that can miaow on occasion. Until Alan and his fellow feline robots become mainstream I shall just be thankful that something is being done.

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