Robotic pets available to comfort dementia patients

Published 10:22 am Thursday, January 21, 2021

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Are you providing care to an older adult?

Does that person love animals but can no longer care for them?

If so, you may be able to get a robotic cat or dog from Davie County Senior Services through their Family Caregiver Support Program.

A family caregiver is any family member, partner or friend who, regularly and without pay, provides support or care to an older adult who is 60 years of age or older who has a significant or persistent health problem or loss of autonomy.  Often times the older adult may be living with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia.

There are more than 65 million people in the United States considered to be serving in the role of family caregivers. Without necessary supports, many family caregivers experience burn out and declining health, which is even more striking during this stressful time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Family Caregiver Support Program, as part of the Older Americans Act, has served and supported caregivers in Davie County since its inception in 2006.

Senior Services is aware that family caregivers are doing their best to try to keep their loved one at home and limit their outside contact in order to protect them, said director, Kim Shuskey.  In doing this, they have also had to limit many services or supports that they may have been receiving to assist them.

Those services may have included help from home care or home health agencies or help from friends or neighbors in the community.  Many families are sheltering in place with their loved one and are full-time caregivers without any support for the first time.

The Administration for Community Living awarded grant funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) to support family caregivers.

Davie County Senior Services received these funds.

“Based on feedback from other surrounding counties and our current family caregivers, robotic therapy pets was one of the services chosen to provide,” Shuskey said.

Research show that robotic therapy pets can help seniors struggling with loneliness, isolation, and dementia.  Robotic pets are becoming increasingly common because they are life-like and designed to give seniors a sense of companionship and comfort, she said.

“These pets are calming and soothing and often times create a sense of purpose for someone living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.  Many people will name their robotic pets and form attachments to them.  The relationship that each person forms with their pet will be unique to their abilities,” she said.

Some may treat the pet as a real dog or cat, while others may understand that they are robotic stuffed animals but still benefit from the companionship of them during this time of social isolation.

The CEO of Ageless Innovation, Ted Fischer, which is the company behind the most popular Joy for All Companion Pets, has shared some of his insight on its website.  Fischer states that the robotic pets were “developed with extensive input from older adults” and designed “to look, sound, and feel just like real puppies and kittens- without the responsibilities of pet ownership.”

Unlike many regular stuffed animals, the robotic therapy pets have a heartbeat and they respond to human touch, voice, and interaction.

“This helps give meaningful and engaging connection for your loved one,” he said.

Fischer said he wanted to “bring fun and play to the older adult and show that play has no age limit”.  The company has received various feedback from caregivers that have shared their stories and testimonials on the positive affect the robotic pets have had on reducing isolation and loneliness and the overall quality of life of their loved one.

Some staff members at Senior Services have witnessed the benefits that the robotic therapy pets have had for family caregivers and their loved ones.

Senior Services has a golden colored dog or three colors of cats available.

In addition to the animals, Senior Services also provides other services to family caregivers.  These include respite, incontinence supplies and nutritional supplements, a resource library and a caregiver support group via Zoom.  Coming soon are activity kits for those with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

If you or someone you know is a family caregiver providing care at home, and are interested in learning more about the Family Caregiver Support Program eligibility, the robotic therapy pets, or any other caregiver services, contact Kelly Sloan at Senior Services at 336-753-6230.  Follow Senior Services on Facebook to get more information on the pets and view a video of a family caregiver introducing their loved one to a robotic puppy.