Exploring the impact of socially assistive robots on health and wellbeing across the lifespan: An umbrella review and Meta-analysis

Bethany Nichol, Jemma McCready, Goran Erfani, Dania Comparcini, Valentina Simonetti, Giancarlo Cicolini, Kristina Mikkonen, Miyae Yamakawa, Marco Tomietto*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Socially assistive robots offer an alternate source of connection for interventions within health and social care amidst a landscape of technological advancement and reduced staff capacity. There is a need to summarise the available systematic reviews on the health and wellbeing impacts to evaluate effectiveness, explore potential moderators and mediators, and identify recommendations for future research and practice.

To explore the effect of socially assistive robots within health and social care on psychosocial, behavioural, and physiological health and wellbeing outcomes across the lifespan (PROSPERO registration number: CRD42023423862).

An umbrella review utilising meta-analysis, narrative synthesis, and vote counting by direction of effect.

14 databases were searched (ProQuest Health Research Premium collection, Scopus, PubMed, Web of Science, ASM Digital Library, IEEE Xplore, Cochrane Reviews, and EPISTEMONIKOS) from 2005 to May 4, 2023. Systematic reviews including the effects of socially assistive robots on health outcomes were included and a pooled meta-analysis, vote counting by direction of effect, and narrative synthesis were applied. The second version of A MeaSurement Tool to Assess systematic Reviews (AMSTAR-2) was applied to assess quality of included reviews.

35 reviews were identified, most focusing on older adults with or without dementia (n = 24). Pooled meta-analysis indicated no effect of socially assistive robots on quality of life (standard mean difference (SMD) = 0.43), anxiety (SMD = − 0.02), or depression (SMD = 0.21), although vote counting identified significant improvements in social interaction, mood, positive affect, loneliness, stress, and pain across the lifespan, and narrative synthesis identified an improvement in anxiety in children. However, some reviews reported no significant difference between the effects of socially assistive robots and a plush toy, and there was no effect of socially assistive robots on psychiatric outcomes including agitation, neuropsychiatric symptoms, and medication use.

Socially assistive robots show promise for improving non-psychiatric outcomes such as loneliness, positive affect, stress, and pain, but exert no effect on psychiatric outcomes such as depression and agitation. The main mechanism of effect within group settings appeared to be the stimulation of social interaction with other humans. Limitations include the low quality and high amount of overlap between included reviews.

Socially assistive robots may help to improve loneliness, social interaction, and positive affect in older adults, decrease anxiety and distress in children, and improve mood, stress, and reduce pain across the lifespan. However, before recommendations for socially assistive robots can be made, a cost-effectiveness analysis of socially assistive robots to improve mood across the lifespan, and a quantitative analysis of the effects on pain, anxiety, and distress in children are required.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104730
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Nursing Studies
Early online date22 Feb 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Feb 2024

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