Pet and Art Therapy?


CINCINNATI, Ohio. (Ivanhoe Newswire)— Pet therapy has historically been used by patients who are struggling with mental health conditions, like depression or PTSD or are battling a chronic illness like cancer. Art therapy helps people express feelings and emotions. Now, scientists are studying a program that uses both forms of therapy, virtually, for patients struggling with hearing loss.

Installation artist Sankhya Jejurikar’s health journey began in 2013 when doctors found an acoustic neuroma in her brain.

Jejurikar told Ivanhoe, “It’s a slow growing tumor. Fortunately, it’s benign, but it sits on these three nerves.”

Last year, Jejurikar needed surgery to remove the tumor, but she still feels the effects.

Jejurikar explained, “I’ve lost complete hearing in my left ear. It is isolating, frustrating.”

University of Cincinnati neuro-oncologist Soma Sengupta, M.D., Ph.D. detailed, “We’re very quick as physicians to give antidepressants to our patients or say, okay, yes, yes, you’re feeling sad. Here you go.”

(Read Full Interview)

Instead enter this fuzzy little guy; the first half of a scientific study on patient well-being for people with hearing loss.

“So, the robotic pets allow us to have that companionship without the burden of feeding, taking care of a pet or cleaning up after a pet,” said Claudia Rebola, Ph.D., a researcher and designer at University of Cincinnati.

The second part involves art.

“When people make art, it tends to reduce their defenses,” shared Meera Rastogi, Ph.D. a psychologist and art therapist at University of Cincinnati.

Dr. Sengupta said, “What if you combine these modalities and digitalize them?”

The researchers designed a self-guided art therapy app. For 12 weeks, patients do their own art therapy, then answer questions about their mood.

Then half of the patients take home a robotic pup. The pets have “smart collars”; sensors record the number and length of interactions. Researchers want to quantify how adding pets to the art increases well-being.

The researchers say the COVID shutdown reminded providers of the importance of finding ways for patients to access their healthcare remotely. Dr. Sengupta said the art and robot pet therapy give patients tools to take personal control of their mental well-being. University of Cincinnati researchers are applying for funding to expand the trial and potentially increase the capabilities of the robotic pets.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Executive Producer and Field Producer; Kirk Manson, Videographer; and Roque Correa, Editor.

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ROBOT COMPANION BACKGROUND: Normally robots are not viewed as especially cuddly, but now newly developed ‘comfort robots’ are on the market. They were made to replace pets, be used as therapeutic aids and provide emotional support. Some resemble stuffed animals while others look more cartoonish. They can be used in settings where real or alive animals are not easily accepted into the space, like hospitals, nursing homes, or where the human companion may be too elderly to be able to take care of a live animal. They can also be used to work with children on the autism spectrum, helping them learn and connect.


ROBOT COMPANION NEED: Studies have shown that robot companions help people with depression, feeling less lonely, and give them more purpose since their day-to-day activities involve brushing them and talking to them. Since most can sense the environment and respond to it, the robot animals do end up feeling like a real pet, they respond to touch, sound and can even bark, or make other noises in response to key words. It can also feel how its being handled, for example if a person were to pet it or hit it, they can feel the difference between the two through the sensors. The main emotional targets the robot has proven to help are loneliness, depression, agitation, blood pressure, and even the need for some medications.


FUTURE ROBOT COMPANION CARE: Ethics are an unanswered question when it comes to the future of companion robots. Replacing or supplementing human caregivers with robots could be detrimental to the person being cared for. For starters, human contact has been decreasing even when it involves other jobs that robots may start doing instead of humans. Adding caregiving duties to this may mean reducing seniors’ level of human contact even further. Some people may also find it demeaning to be taken care of by a machine while others may find it better because there is no embarrassment during washing or helping out of bed as it is not a real human with feelings or judgments. Perspective is key when deciding if a robot companion is right for you or an elderly loved one.




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Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Dr. Soma Sengupta, MD, PhD, and Neuro-oncologist

Read the entire Q&A