This study is a contribution to the public debate about demographic challenges caused by an increasing elderly population and lack of professional care to support them. The Norwegian Technology Board has given some advice towards a future health care for elders, among them supporting the implementation of robot technologies. One robot that is in use already at Norwegian elderly care centres is a social robot shaped as a seal puppy with thick white fur and big black eyes; the mental commitment robot PARO. Especially elderly demented people are said to calm down and become more socialised if the robot is present.
The thesis sets out to investigate how the mental commitment robot PARO has been interpreted and adapted by different groups at residential and treatment centres for people with dementia; which ethical aspects emerge when a robot like PARO is introduced or evaluated in elderly care; and finally how does the introduction of PARO in elderly care influence care practises and knowledge?
The descriptive framework, Social Construction of Technology (SCOT), by Wiebe Bijker and Trevor Pinch is the main theory in use to answer these questions. The thesis analyses how relevant social groups form and interpret the technology, demonstrating the interpretative flexibility of the robot. This flexibility comes from social negotiations among the members of different social groups, more than technical properties of the artefact. The empirical material was collected through semi structured interviews of sixteen respondents working at dementia care centres, distributors, and governmental advisory organisations. The study is approved by the National Data Protection Official for Research (NSD), given the project number 24540. NSD has demanded that sites and people described in this study are kept anonymous; protecting the vulnerable group of demented elders.
The SCOT analysis has revealed that the robot is interpreted in a wide range of different ways. Major solutions the robot fulfils are that it calm down elders, it increases social contact and is a new distraction that makes the caregivers more observant towards the elders, enabling the carer to see the elder in a new way. Major issues with the robot are that it is highly expensive equipment, stigmatising in some situations and creates a risk of deception due to its animal characteristics. The thesis concludes that a traditional caring paradigm competes with a new robot care paradigm. However, the caregiver and the social factors are crucial elements to why the robot works so well at some places, while not working in other situations.
Key words: Social robots, PARO, SCOT, Dementia, Elderly care