Robotic Companion Pets Offer Comfort and Increased Engagement for Older Adults and Those Living with Dementia During COVID-19
Thanks to a partnership between the Florida Department of Elder Affairs and Ageless Innovation, I was able to get a free companion dog for my father who is dealing with worsening attention span due to dementia/Alzheimers Disease. Granted, the dog in question, currently named Buster, is a robot. But my dad didn’t seem to mind. And for us caregivers, no worries about taking the dog out for a walk or feeding it. (Frankly, we’ve got enough poop, pee and eating issues to deal with already! LOL)
My father has always claimed to dislike dogs but after pet sitting for me years ago, I found out that dad secretly shared his snacks with my dog during daily cocktail hour, to the point of my dog demanding snacks from me at 4:30 every day after spending a week with my father! We didn’t know how dad would react to a mechanical dog. No snacks to share. I sent it over as a gift for my parent’s 63rd Anniversary. I thought it would help since I can’t visit during Covid restrictions.
My mother, using her iPhone, captured a video of my dad as he interacted with this adorable pup on his lap. He was asking the dog “Do you speak English?” To which the dog responded woof, woof. When dad said “Are you a good boy?” and petted his head, the dog cocked his head to the side and said woof, woof. The dog blinked at him. Dad asked, “Do you want to play?” and the dog opened his mouth and panted. When dad went to put his hand in the dogs mouth, “Do you want to show me your teeth?”, the dog’s mouth started to close, my dad jerked his hand back and smiled, asking the dog, “Are you a troublemaker?”
I cried with happiness watching this video that my mom sent me. My dad has been rather uncommunicative and has lost the ability to focus on his former 3 hour a day habit of iPad solitaire. Dad sleeps on and off, goes for a 10 minute hallway walk each day, and watches television, though he couldn’t tell you what he just saw or what anyone said. Mostly it’s animal shows on National Geographic or talent type shows or, for some reason he’s totally addicted to the Bachelor and Bachelorette shows. To know that he now has a friend to talk to, and he’s laughing and seeming to find joy, I understand why the company name for the dog (and cat) manufacturer is Joy for All.
The fact that my local department of Elder Affairs is delivering these animals free to elders with dementia as part of the state’s effort to be known as Dementia Friendly, was a real gift. Their press release explains their purpose:
‘TALLAHASSEE, Fla., – This week, the Florida Department of Elder Affairs (DOEA) began delivering over 375 therapeutic robotic pets to socially isolated seniors and adults living with Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementia (ADRD). The interactive pets help combat social isolation and depression among older individuals and people living with [dementia diseases] by improving overall mood and quality of life. Family caregivers may experience a reduction in stress, and caregivers benefit when companion pets allow increased engagement with the older adult and their environment
The robotic pets offer an alternative to traditional pet therapy, and research shows they have similar positive effects. They are designed to respond to motion, touch, and sound. … data has shown that using pets to decrease social isolation for older adults is highly successful.
“We hope these companion robotic pets may help calm individuals living with [dementia] and provide some respite for their caregivers,” said Secretary Prudom. “In addition, we are pleased to expand the use of robotic pets to isolated older adults. Our participation in this innovative program will help many older adults improve their daily mood and give them a greater sense of well-being because of the companionship provided by the interactive pets.”
I already told my mother that if dad isn’t loving his animal, I’ll take it because I found just having it for a few days in my home and testing it, greatly reduced my own stress. I think anything we caregivers can do to find a bit of joy, is welcome.
For long distance family looking to support caregivers, offering this type of tool might prove beneficial. Be aware that the initial “I don’t need a ROBOT!” reaction is not a reason to pull away the animal. Once alone, no one watching, late at night in bed, sitting and watching TV, we find ourselves petting and talking to these animals. I am a great case study. My dad is evidence too.
The odd thing was that the dog actually shed a little tan fur on my black yoga pants and I laughed for a few minutes at how “real” the dog was!!! As long as I don’t have to worry about my neighbors complaining from too much barking, I’m good!
I praise Florida for this initiative.If there is not a similar initiative in your community, speak up and make the suggestion. Work with your local Area Agency on Aging. I’d love to see your videos and hear your stories about how your family has made use of robots! I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
#illberightthere #caregiving #stressrelief #robotcompanion