Robo-Cats Do What Real Pets Can’t for Dementia Patients

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Therapy animals have been well-documented anxiety relievers for the sick, stressed and elderly. But the services these animals provide have limits.

For example, therapy animals are mostly brought in by handlers, and so aren’t available in the night when patients are restless. They also need bathroom breaks, to be fed, walked, and to get out and about — many things the elderly, and the people who care for them, just can’t do on their own. Enter the robo-pets.

Robo-Pets Have Come a Long Way

It’s true, robotic animals have been around for a while. But, it was only recently that these mechanical pets became both affordable and realistic in their actions.

When New York Times journalist Andy Newman visited the Hebrew Home in Riverdale, the Bronx, he witnessed the robots and patients interact like any pet owner would. “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 cat’s back, whispering to it in German.”

The robo-cats used at the New York senior care facility are made by the toymaker Hasbro, and cost $99. The electronic pets come in tabby, white and gray with mittens – beautiful and familiar coats to animal lovers. The slogan is, “No litterbox. Just love,” and the caretakers have found it especially true. “For a lot of our residents, it’s a chance to be a caregiver, and to be in an active, empowered role again,” explained Mary Farkas, director of therapeutic activities. “A lot of times this disease causes passivity, and we’re always looking for ways to combat that.”

Love Without the Labor

The robo-cats eliminate the need for real pet care, which can be laborious, letting the patients focus on caring and loving the animal in a way that is simply therapeutic for them. The robo-cats are also there in the middle of the night, available when patients are stressed and confused during the day, and they’re always in the mood for a cuddle — something you can’t always predict with animals, especially sometimes feisty cats.

Arlene Saunders, an 86-year-old former opera singer told the New York Times, “They’re adorable…. They don’t get anybody on their nerves” — Newman noting she lifted an eyebrow conspiratorially — “or do they?”

“They are sweet…” another resident, Ms. Wyckoff, told the Times. “The best thing is they’re here all day, and you can always come and find the babies. It’s a simple thing: You can love them and they love you back.”

The Hebrew Home has been using the robo-cats since March and it has already seen an improvement in patients. They have a handful now, but hope to acquire up to 50 more within the year. What do you think about the use of robo-cats? Is that something you’d like to provide your elderly loved one with? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to share this article with your friends on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

For additional reading check out Loving Robo Cat Needs Home.

Photo & Video Credit: Hasbro

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