By Elizabeth Guttenberg, LCSW, Senior Care Advisor
Seven years ago, my mother and stepfather began training Bixby, their adorable cockapoo puppy, to be a therapy dog. One of his specialties is visiting nursing homes, and my mom continues to be amazed at how residents with dementia and other progressive illnesses light up when Bixby arrives. As I noted in a previous article1 , friendly animals can be wonders at delivering the closeness and significant touches that we humans crave —and that many elders don’t get enough of.
However, for a real animal lover, sporadic visits from a therapy dog may still not provide enough of that contact. Although certain assisted living communities do allow cats and other small pets to move in with their residents, most nursing homes do not. Fortunately, a new variety of pet has entered the scene that may change this situation dramatically – one that doesn’t meow, scratch, bark or shed, doesn’t need to be litter-trained, walked or fed, and doesn’t trigger allergic reactions. Soon, every nursing home patient who craves a pet companion could be cozying up to a robotic one.
According to a recent study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease2, robotic pets can help reduce anxiety and the use of psychoactive and pain medications among dementia patients.
Corroborating those findings, the New York Times3 reported on the ways in which robotic cats can enhance the lives of dementia patients.
And this BBC4 story explores the positive effects that robotic cats and seals have had on dementia patients in California.
So if your loved ones are animal lovers, keep this advance in technology in mind as they age. With robotics, the costs are modest (as low as $100), and the sky’s the limit when it comes to creativity. We may soon see all sorts of animatronic pets coming to befriend nursing home residents. Lions and tigers and bears? Oh my—yes!
1Guttenberg, E. (2016, January 1). January tip of the month: stimulating the five senses. Care.com. Retrieved from http://blog.care.com/elder-advice/2016/01/january-tip-of-the-month-stimulating-the-five-senses.html
2Petersen, S., Houston, S., Qin, H., Tague, C., & Studley, J. (2017). The Utilization of Robotic Pets in Dementia Care. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 1-6.
3Newman, A. (2016, December 15). Therapy cats for dementia patients, batteries included. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/15/nyregion/robotic-therapy-cats-dementia.html?_r=1
4Lee, D. (2016, January 15). Meet the robotic cat for the elderly. BBC. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-35310200
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