References And Further Reading
Cats Meow: Robotic Pet Boosts Mood Cognition In Adults With Dementia
Study participants smiled and talked to their robotic pet cats and expressed sentiments such as, the cat is looking at me like someone who listens to me and loves me.
Individuals with Alzheimers disease or related dementias often experience behavioral and psychological symptoms such as depression, aggression and anxiety. Frequently, these symptoms are treated with antipsychotics, antidepressants and benzodiazepines, which often have side effects.
While pet therapy is known to be a cost effective and therapeutic intervention for improving mood and behavior in older adults, little is known about pet therapy in adult day centers, despite logistical advantages such as socialization and group activities.
With the help of a cuddly and furry companion, researchers from Florida Atlantic Universitys Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing tested the effectiveness of affordable, interactive robotic pet cats to improve mood, behavior and cognition in older adults with mild to moderate dementia. The non-pharmacological intervention took place over the course of 12 visits in an adult day center. Participants were informed that their pet was a robot and not a live animal. Each of them selected a name for their cat, which was fitted with a collar and a personalized nametag.
Wiese and Ortega also are members of the FAU Institute for Human Health and Disease Intervention , created to advance health through pioneering research and practical applications.
Robotic Pets For Dementia Patients: Our Experiences
Caption: Memory Care Unit Robotic Pet Menagerie
Wondering if “Robotic Pets for Seniors” are a good idea?
Here is a real world report of the author’s experience deploying robotic pets for dementia patients in an assisted living and memory care facility in San Francisco .
Read on to learn how they were used, what the reactions were to the robot stuffed animals, and what some of the “issues” were to make sure they were a benefit to the patients.
Disclaimer: Neither the author nor the author’s organization were compensated by vendors of robotic pets for doing this work, or for deploying the pets at the author’s organization.
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What Is A Robotic Pet
Robotic pets are toy animals that have life like qualities including sound and movement. Most robotic animals are powered by batteries and have sensors that respond to movement and touch. The animatronic animals blink, move the head and mouth, and produce life like sounds. By use of the on/mute/off button, the user can adjust the level of response.
Play the short video below to watch how the animals move and sound.
Robotic animals are not a replacement for living, breathing animals but they are an effective alternative for seniors and individuals with memory impairment when live animals are not available or no longer safe.
The uses and benefits of robotic animals has become even more apparent during the restrictions that so many individuals have experienced during the recent pandemic. Furthermore, robotic animals can be used in conjunction with live animals or virtual animal experiences to enhance the therapeutic experience.
Stuffed Animals Arent Demeaning
Some people might feel that its demeaning to give an older adult a stuffed animal. But if something is a safe source of enjoyment, does it really matter what other people think?
The most important thing is to find out if the person is interested or not. Perhaps offer them a less expensive stuffed cat or dog to see how they respond.
When there are few ways to improve someones quality of life, lets not be so quick to discard a good option because it doesnt seem age appropriate.
And lets not forget that there are many healthy adults of all ages who still enjoy stuffed animals.
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Therapy Pets Can’t Help Alzheimer’s Patients Right Nowbut There’s A Robotic Alternative
Social distancing has changed everything, including how to care for a loved one with Alzheimer or dementia. There might be an increase of stress, confusion and behavior issues during this time because of their disrupted routine, according to the Alzheimer Association.
There are at-home therapeutic activities you can do to help calm them down.
You could get them a free furry robotic friend through Florida’s Department of Elder Affairs to keep them company. The robots are designed to look, move and act like cats and dogs.
The department says it’s planning to deliver more than 375 free robotic pets this week to socially isolated senior citizens and adults living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia to “improve their daily mood and give them a greater sense of well-being” during Florida’s stay-at-home orders and social distancing requirements.
The interactive robotic pets are meant to be an alternative to traditional pet therapy and can help give a reprieve to caretakers who are stressed about caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or another dementia during the COVID-19 crisis, according to the department.
Researchers say robotic pets can be a good alternative for people with dementia who are scared of animals or live in a home or healthcare facility that does not accept animals for fear of infections or other issues, such as allergies, bites or scratches.
Benefits Of Stuffed And Robotic Pets For Dementia And Alzheimers
Family members may be surprised to learn about the many benefits that a stuffed or robotic pet can provide for their older adults with medical conditions related to dementia or Alzheimers disease.
Increased food intake: Its common for seniors in the late stages of alzheimer and dementia to lose weight. In fact, weight loss is so common in individuals with AD that it is listed as a symptom consistent with the diagnosis by the National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke/Alzheimers Disease and Related Disorders Association Work Group, according to a study by McKhann et al., in 1984.
It is thought that this weight loss comes from several factors:
- Forgetting to eat
- Repetitive activities
However, in a 2002 study by Edwards and Beck at Purdue University, researchers found that when fish aquariums were viewed by Alzheimers and dementia patients on a daily basis for two weeks, and then switched to a weekly basis for six weeks, the patients gained an average of 1.65 pounds, and required less nutritional supplementation.
Reduced need for psychoactive medications and pain medications: A 2017 study by Petersen et al., on how stuffed and robotic pets helped with behavioral care in five dementia care units showed
The study concluded that, The treatment group improved and maintained improvements in GSV, pulse oximetry, and pulse-rate over time.
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Benefits Of Stuffed Animals For Seniors With Dementia
Many caregivers report that after giving their older adult a stuffed animal, theyve seen positive results like:
- Increased happiness and calm
- Increased engagement through playing and talking with the stuffed animal
- Having a sense of purpose from caring for their pet
- Reliving happy memories of a previous pet
- Giving visitors something to focus on and interact with for more successful visits
Realistic Stuffed Animals For Dementia Patients
Its no secret that pets bring such joy to life. Who doesnt love to snuggle with a furry kitten or play with adorable real dogs? Plus, animals dont judge our failings they are just happy to see us and interact with us, which makes them great companions.
But, a real pet requires a lot of care, and for seniors living in nursing homes or other type of care facilities its not a possibility. Which is why the new, very lifelike stuffed and robotic animals can be especially good for people with Alzheimers disease or dementia. It can provide the love of a real animal without the work.
Stuffed and Robotic Therapy Animals Can:
- Encourage interaction which is a very important thing
- Can reduce the anxiety, depression, irritability, and loneliness that comes with dementia and Alzheimers disease
- Can help to provide a sense of purpose
- May reduce the need for psychoactive medications and pain medications for those with dementia and Alzheimers disease
- Are non-threatening and wont provoke anyones pet allergies
- May help increase nutritional intake in people with dementia or Alzheimers disease
These dementia gifts can be used in place of therapy dolls or a baby doll which many Alzheimers patients and seniors with dementia love to hold.
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What Are People Saying
It is adorable. I bought it for my father who wanted a little dog for a companion but lives in an apartment complex that does not allow pets. He is so taken with “Gus”. He fell in love with him as soon as we took it out of the box!
We purchased the golden retriever for our elderly mother. She just loves it. Named him Buddy and he’s by her side all the time. We couldn’t be happier for her. She lives alone and this is the most perfect gift.
The best purchase I have ever made for my personal care home senior client. It looks and sounds so real. They just love Rosie. Thats what they named her.
Kitty brings such joy and comfort to my 101 yr old mother. She is soft and cuddly. Her meowing is soothing to hear. Mom just loves to sit and pet her.
Robotic Pets For Seniors
Robotic pets can be great for seniors, even if they arent suffering from dementia. Having a companion pet has far reaching impacts on health and mortality rates.
Loneliness and social isolation can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
The HRSA website reports that, Poor social relationships were associated with a 29 percent increase in risk of coronary heart disease and a 32 percent rise in the risk of stroke.
A recent story in the New York Post highlighted how lonely seniors can be. In the story, a woman received an Ageless Innovation Joy for All Robotic Dog as part of a new statewide pilot program by the Department for the Aging that distributed mechanical dogs and cats to 60 seniors with the aim of easing loneliness.
The lady said, I know its mechanical, but when you walk past it, it says something to you, and when you live alone, it matters. Plus, she has some health concerns and doesnt have to worry about spending money on the dog or cleaning up after it.
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All The Joy None Of The Maintenance
While many senior living communities have animal therapy programs or even allow resident pets, that may not be feasible in all circumstances. Some residents may have allergies and caregivers cant always help with pet maintenance. Companion Pets are ideal for those situations. They offer residents many of the benefits of having a pet without the responsibilities of daily walks or tending to the cat box!
Therapy Cats For Dementia Patients Batteries Included
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By Andy Newman
Lou Ann Wyckoff cradled the gray-and-white cat in her lap. She scratched the back of its head and the cat purred, eyes closed. When she stopped petting the cat, it opened its green eyes and meowed for more.
They are so sweet, they are so sweet, said Ms. Wyckoff, a 79-year-old former opera singer. The babies wake up and talk to the ladies, Bring the babies.
Next to Ms. Wyckoff, a 99-year-old woman in a purple sweater stroked an orange-and-white cat. It rolled on its back, exposing its belly. Another woman, in a red sweater, ran her hand gently down her cats back, whispering to it in German.
The cats were actually cat-size robots. Their admirers were elderly residents of the Memory Care wing at Hebrew Home at Riverdale in the Bronx: people with varying degrees of dementia and Alzheimers.
On this recent Thursday morning, five cats circulated through the room, handed off by therapists from one resident to the next. Were using them to warm up the group space, said Mary Farkas, the director of therapeutic activities at Hebrew Home.
She has her own cat now, Ms. Farkas said.
Hebrew Home has since acquired 24 more, and there are plans for an additional 25, or possibly 50, she said.
At Hebrew Home that Thursday, multiple narratives were unfolding. Ms. Wyckoff was stroking her cats whiskers.
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Weve Seen A Joy For All Cat Bring Cheer To A Memory Care Community
The DailyCaring team had a chance to observe one of the Joy for All robotic cats in action at a local memory care community. The residents loved her!
Some older adults think these are real animals and feel a sense of purpose when they pet and care for them. Others may simply enjoy them as a fun, cuddly interactive toy.
No matter what, its clear that these toy companion pets add comfort and fun to seniors lives.
But Are They Realistic
Yes, they truly are realistic. Sometimes people wonder, however, if a mechanical pet is somewhat insulting to an older adult as if someone is trying to fool them into thinking the pet is real. Thats not the case, according to Katie, National Director of Life Enrichment for The Goodman Group. Many of the residents know theyre not real, Katie says. In fact, some of our memory care residents know how to turn them on and off.”
Even though the Companion Pets arent real, they seem to create the same results as live animal therapy. They produce smiles, calm nerves, and give residents a sense of friendship. Theres something very soothing about them, Katie says. “So soothing, that in a recent meeting our CEO picked one up and put it under his arm, Katie laughs.
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Joy For All Orange Tabby Cat
This robotic pet, which was used in the study, comes in four cute colors. As one of the most interactive choices on the market, this cat features a vibrapurr technology to give it an authentic purr that sounds and feels like a real cat. We like its impressive range of motion: It opens and closes its eyes, lifts its paw, opens its mouth and moves its head and body. It responds to motion and touch such as petting and hugging and features synthetic, soft fur inspired by real feline breeds. Joy For All companion pets won the caregiver friendly award from Todays Caregiver in 2016 and 2017.
Hope Hospice Animatronic Pet Program For Dementia Care
Hope Hospice is using animatronic pets to help lessen the impact that pandemic-related isolation has had on its patients. Joy for All Companion Pets by Ageless Innovation are robotic dog and cat toys designed specifically to comfort older adults in need of companionship early studies specifically charted the benefits for people living with Alzheimers Disease and other forms of cognitive decline. The pets are battery powered and, when stroked, become alert and make lifelike noises and small movements.
With a generous donation from NorCal Minis car club, Hope Hospice was able to purchase 20 Joy For All Companion Pet cats to start. Due to hygiene protocols, especially at this time of heightened concern, the cats are gifted to the recipient, not expected to be returned for reuse.
No one expected quarantine orders to have carried on this long, says Nikki Tildesley, Manager of Volunteer Services at Hope Hospice. But here we are, nearly a year into this pandemic, and our patients continue to go without the benefit of face-to-face companionship visits from our volunteers, and in many cases, even the patients own family. They are truly suffering.
One care provider participating in a study reports: The was withdrawn, rarely interactive, and frequently mumbled incoherently. With the introduction of the pup, the patient would smile, laugh, talk to, and pick up the pet. Her son observed that, as a result, she was more responsive to him.
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Not A Replacement For A Live Animal
I would like to be clear that a robotic pet is not a replacement for a live animal.
Robotic animals cannot adapt their response to you in the way a real animal can. At least, not yet! However, a robotic animal can provide a level of stimulation, engagement and comfort that one cannot find with a simple stuffed animal. I hope to illustrate the uses and benefits of robotic animals by sharing some of the real reactions I have observed in my work with our residents.
The majority of reactions to the robotic pets are positive. Initial responses usually include:
- verbally addressing the robot stuffed animal,
- wonder at the life like qualities of the animal, and
- engaging in conversation about the robotic pet with those around them.
However, not all reactions are positive. The most common secondary reaction is indifference. There have been some negative reactions but I have found those results are seldom.