As social robotics technology improves and progresses, these robots’ interactions with people — and perhaps more importantly, humans’ willingness to interact with them — has also advanced.

The combination of social robotics and behavioral therapy is helping people with a wide range of social and psychological disorders, from dementia to autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Robotic therapists have also been used in specific applications with a great deal of success, as patients perceive robots to be less judgmental than their human counterparts.

Here are a few ways social robotics are helping patients in all stages of life.

Robotic Therapy Animals Sooth Elderly Patients With Dementia

There’s been a lot of news in recent years about robotic therapy animals and their ability to comfort patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. These therapy pets are cute and cuddly, and many people with dementia are calmed by their interactions with a robotic pet.

Plus, the animals don’t need to be fed or otherwise cared for, making them a perfect companion to elderly patients who struggle with memory loss and those living in senior care facilities that don’t allow pets.

Robotic Seal

One such animal is PARO, a therapeutic robot in the form of a baby seal. Japanese researchers developed PARO in the 1990s, and it was released to the public in the early 2000s. In 2009, PARO was approved by U.S. regulators for use with elderly patients.

Since then, a number of other robotic therapy pets have been released onto the market. These include Tombot, a golden Labrador puppy designed by Jim Henson’s Creatures Shop, and Hasbro’s Joy for All Companion Pets that retail for a mere $100.

Interacting with therapy animals is one of many ways elderly patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia can improve their symptoms and quality of life. Researchers have concluded that many dementia cases can be delayed or avoided altogether by practicing better habits earlier in life.

Companion Bots Provide Comfort and Security

Robots that provide companionship aren’t just for elderly patients. Creating a robot that people can connect with — that isn’t made of cold, hard metal — has proved somewhat difficult. Robots like Jibo and Kiro, which were designed to be cute home assistants, were both shut down last year.

However, new robot startups hoping to learn from mistakes or past failures pop up all the time.

The Lovot companion robot was designed for one primary purpose — to create emotional attachment. It doesn’t speak, but it has large emotive eyes and a soft, warm, squeezable body. Its parent company, Groove X, claims that its mission is to build trust between humans and robots and create companions that will enrich lives while securing their owners’ homes.

Robots Help Kids With Autism Learn Social Skills

Some robots have been utilized in recent years to help children with ASD. Interactions with robots have been found to improve engagement, increase attention and minimize social anxiety in autistic children.

Milo Robot Autism

Milo is one such tool that can be used to improve outcomes for children with ASD. Milo models human facial expressions and delivers lessons to ASD students with the assistance of a live human therapist or educator.

Robots have been used with children with ASD for decades, but technology in this area is continually improving and becoming more affordable for families and therapists alike.

Robots Are Changing the Therapeutic Landscape

Therapeutic robots and chatbots in the form of smartphone apps are bringing cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT) to patients who don’t otherwise have access to these services. Woebot is one such example, which can be downloaded for free on IOS and Android devices. The inventors of the app say they want to make mental health services available to everyone.

Preliminary research has concluded that this therapy method is an effective way to deliver CBT, and patients studied showed a measurable reduction in feelings of anxiety and depression.

The Future of Social Robotics

Social robots and robotic therapy pets have come a long way in recent years. Paired with psychological science, these robots will not only help humans as companions and therapists but could become more a part of our daily lives. However, this is only possible if robots continue to move from being helpful into the realm of relatable.