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Robot cats are steadily becoming permanent residents in senior homes, especially in assisted living facilities for those living with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia-related illnesses, because of studies and real-life stories that prove how these interactive robotic pets offer companionship for lonely seniors and combat social isolation brought upon the recent COVID-19 pandemic.
With many family members not able to regularly visit their loved ones in these assisted living facilities due to physical distancing or social isolation protocols imposed for their protection, many socially isolated seniors are experiencing increased feelings of loneliness and heightened behavioral symptoms such as depression and anxiety.
Enter robotic cats. A research conducted by Christine E. Lynn from the College of Nursing in Florida Atlantic University has discovered that interactive robotic cats are able to act as therapeutic robotic pets for lonely older adults who are socially isolated and those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia-related illnesses.
Robotic cats are interactive robotic pets designed to be alternative companion pets primarily for older adults. Robotic cats are designed to be lifelike counterparts of real cats, which is why some models like the Joy For All Orange Tabby Cat from Ageless Innovation have “realistic” features such as having a “heartbeat” whenever you hug it, the ability to nuzzle its head into your palm when you pet it, purr, and wag its tail amongst many.
Although these robotic cats should not be seen as an exact replacement for or replica of real cats, these interactive robotic pets offer a few benefits and advantages over their living counterparts, especially for older adults living with Alzheimer’s disease and in nursing homes.
Traditional pet therapy has often been used as a type of psychotherapy to help treat mood disorders and combat loneliness amongst seniors and those residents in caring facilities. However, unlike cats and dogs used in traditional pet therapy, robotic cats and dogs can provide to an extent the same benefits but in a more permanent sense since they can stay beside residents in social isolation and keep lonely seniors company 24/7, thus helping decrease social isolation.
In the study conducted by Florida Atlantic University, interactive robotic cats were seen to be able to effectively provide comfort and engage older adults with Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementia Illnesses (ADRD) as these are people who often have behavioral and psychological symptoms such as depression, aggression, anxiety, and extreme loneliness.
Chosen participants in this project by Christine E. Lynn from Florida Atlantic University (FAU) were assessed in a series of tests; The Mini Mental State Exam, which is a widely used test of cognitive function among the elderly, The Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias Mood Scale (AD-RD Mood Scale) to evaluate mood, The Observed Emotion Rating Scale, and The Cornell Scale for Depression in Dementia. Over the course of 12 visits, the study has found that pre-test scores and post-test scores significantly improved.
Bryanna Streit, Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree (DNP), who is also from Florida Atlantic University also conducted a study that demonstrated how the feline robotic interactive pets helped in improving more positive mood and overall quality of life of lonely seniors and ADRD patients. Participants in Streit’s project were adults aged 50 and above diagnosed with ADRD from the Louis and Anne Green Memory and Wellness Center.
Participants of this project were also assessed through a series of tests similar to Lynn’s where more than half of them also had higher post-test scores than pre-test scores. This further validates and proves how a robot cat can combat loneliness and even ADRD symptoms.
In said project that used interactive toy pets, such as a robotic cat, the joining participants’ several family members reported that their senior loved ones even slept with their “pet” even after completion of the project as they have already formed a human-animal bond.
As associate professor and director from Florida Atlantic University’s Louis and Anne Green Memory and Wellness Center, María de Los Ángeles Ordóñez, shares how the robotic interactive pets project has also provided adult day center attendees with a companion that encouraged them to talk and share their feelings to the interactive pet.
As the elderly and these patients in facilities are often separated by not only their family, but also their most loved “real” pets from before, this also contributes to their loneliness. However, a noteworthy finding that was revealed by the senior participants from the Louis and Anne Green Memory and Wellness Center in the study was their openness and ability to recall past memories of their previous pets as triggered by the robotic pets provided to them.
Although family caregivers remain in assistance and in the presence of our elderly loved ones, this type of “companionship” can still get lonely over extended periods. Even if family members were to schedule regular visits, sometimes there are unforeseen factors and limitations that can hinder them.
With that said, robot cats can be a good and effective permanent companion for our elderly. With studies and stories that show how a robotic cat can truly decrease social isolation for older adults and loneliness amongst seniors, especially those living in nursing homes, these robotic furry feline friends make for a “purr-fect” companion for life for our most loved seniors.
Aside from helping in alleviating loneliness amongst seniors, interactive pets such as a robot dog or cat, have many other benefits and uses. Ted Fischer, the co-founder and CEO of Ageless Innovation, has developed robotic pets with older individuals in mind and has particularly designed them to provide a realistic interactive two-way companionship in the most fuss-free and low maintenance sense.