“Our residents enjoy the comfort derived from cuddling the community’s robotic cats, dogs and lifelike dolls,” said Jennifer Almodovar, CTRS (Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist), the community’s memory care activity director. “Their use with our memory care residents has had some very positive results with residents from who typically are nonresponsive and anxious.”
A product from Hasbro’s Joy for All™, the robotic cats, dogs and babies offer realistic qualities. They respond to touch with very lifelike responses. The cats purr when stroked and blink as residents groom their face and meow. The Golden Retriever puppy even barks and stretches.
“A great benefit having these robotic pets is that they are maintenance free. You don’t worry about the cat scratching a resident or needing a litter box and they respond to each person,” she explained.
A recent article in Advance Senior Care Magazine said that the use of robotic pets is growing in memory care settings as an alternative to behavioral medication. Having these pets and dolls available whenever a resident wants their companionship is very beneficial.
“While it would seem logical that traditional stuffed animals would serve the same purpose, the realism offered by the robotic animals seems to be so much more effective. The robotic animal’s movements are what are so important,” said Almodovar. “It’s also important that staff be trained using the robotic animals with residents. Our caregiver training helps caregivers with the techniques when using a robotic pet. They can’t call it a doll and you have to be careful how you handle the baby. It has to seem realistic.”
For nonresponsive residents, using the pets and dolls really helps. For example, Jane is always very anxious when she is sitting in her wheelchair. As soon as she’s given a dog or cat to hold in her lap, she’s much calmer and her anxiety level decreases.
While some residents understand these aren’t live animals, others can’t differentiate but the responses they evoke are similar. Resident Theresa never engages in activities or wants to come to the activity room. She is nonverbal but yet when she holds the dog, her mood changes completely. She’ll baby talk to the dog and smiles.
Almodovar said the use of the animals also helps in caregiver communication. If the resident is petting one of the cats the caregiver has things to talk with the resident about. It’s easier than simply asking how they are today.
While residents also enjoy the visits of real animals for pet therapy, there’s some unpredictability with live dogs and cats. Some residents may be allergic or fear animals. In a group setting the dogs or cats can be unpredictable and some residents feel frustrated. One dog or cat may respond to a resident while another may not; the robotic animals eliminate these problems. Also, with robotic animals, The Palace team doesn’t have to rely on a pet handler bringing their pets for a visit.
“Our women residents enjoy the lifelike dolls that The Palace has in a nursery area. Using the dolls help residents remember childrearing activities. Immediately, they’ll put the baby up to their chest. They may help a resident sing to the baby or rock it,” she added. “When we are showing a family our memory care neighborhood, we explain how the robotic cats and dolls are used so they also understand the benefits of these types of therapy. We want them to understand how their mom is being helped by using a robotic baby rather than be alarmed seeing their mother playing with a ‘doll’.
People tend to have the same reaction to a robotic pet or baby as they may have to a real one. It’s not unusual to find a resident sitting in a chair and humming to the baby or rocking it to sleep. Residents who have trouble sleeping at night may find it comforting to care for the baby whenever they want. Some residents’ families have purchased personal babies so their loved ones can keep them with them in their rooms.
“Our goal is to improve the mood and quality of life for our resident,” said Almodovar. “We’re always seeking new ways that are of help. Similarly, is the use of our innovative multi-sensory “Snoezelen” room. This is a therapy originally founding in Holland for people with cognitive and developmental disabilities. The private room, with combinations of lighting, aromas, colors, textures, and sounds, stimulates residents’ olfactory, auditory and gustatory systems. We’re using this for Alzheimer’s and dementia care to also reduce anxiety.”