Assisted Living

12/9/2020 | By Seniors Guide Staff

It’s likely that you’ve heard about or participated in pet therapy. From college campuses to hospital cancer wards, interactions with furry friends have yielded stress relief, increased motor skills, healthy movement, and many other benefits.

In recent years, some senior living facilities have added an innovative twist to the pet therapy concept: robotic pets. Animatronic dogs, cats, and other pets have brought comfort and meaningful connections to residents and patients, including some battling Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. They’ve also helped to reduce agitation and anxiety.

A New Twist on Therapy Animals

Robot pets were first introduced in the early 2000s. Initially, they were regarded as clunky and costly; however, as technology has evolved, they’ve become more lifelike and responsive. Today, advanced animatronics can respond to touch and sound; they can even mimic signs of life, like breathing and purring. Unlike live pets, robot pets do not require hands-on care, and they don’t present any behavioral surprises or allergy risk.

Robotic pets
Patsy and Squire, two residents at Ohio Living Quaker Heights, enjoy the company of the community’s robotic pets.

 “For some individuals, companionship with a robotic pet sparks a sharing of memories and life experiences and for others, it improves social and emotional well-being,” said Sydney McBride, an executive director at Ohio Living; this not-for-profit senior living organization, based in Columbus, Ohio, has integrated more than 20 pets at its 12 life plan communities. “Even if it is only for a few minutes, this unique reconnection helps to restore a sense of self and curb feelings of loneliness and isolation.”

An Unexpected Connection

McBride recalled a notable experience involving a resident with dementia. This individual was known to frequently demonstrate aberrant motor behavior, which is repetitive activity such as pacing, picking at clothes or skin, tapping fingers or feet, etc. Typically, as the repetition continues, the person becomes more agitated, increasing the intensity of the movement, which also can become disruptive to others. When this resident was connected with one of the robot pets, her repetitive motor behavior took the form of stroking fur, which caused the robot cat to respond with movement and purring.

“The reaction was soothing and satisfying to the resident,” McBride said. “Instead of displaying facial expressions of distress and intensity, her facial features were relaxed; she was smiling and communicating with the robotic cat in her own way.”

Amid the challenges of 2020 in the senior care realm, robotic pets have brought a refreshing spirit of optimism. We anticipate hearing more encouraging stories and seeing more robotic pet therapy in care homes across the country.

Seniors Guide Staff

Seniors Guide has been addressing traditional topics and upcoming trends in the senior living industry since 1999. We strive to educate seniors and their loved ones in an approachable manner, and aim to provide them with the right information to make the best decisions possible.

Seniors Guide Staff