It’s no secret that pets bring such joy to life. Who doesn’t love to snuggle with a furry kitten or play with adorable real dogs? Plus, animals don’t judge our failings – they are just happy to see us and interact with us, which makes them great companions.
But, a real pet requires a lot of care, and for seniors living in nursing homes or other type of care facilities – it’s not a possibility. Which is why the new, very lifelike stuffed and robotic animals can be especially good for people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. It can provide the love of a real animal without the work.
Stuffed and Robotic Therapy Animals Can:
- Encourage interaction which is a very important thing
- Can reduce the anxiety, depression, irritability, and loneliness that comes with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
- Can help to provide a sense of purpose
- May reduce the need for psychoactive medications and pain medications for those with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
- Are non-threatening and won’t provoke anyone’s pet allergies
- May help increase nutritional intake in people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
These dementia gifts can be used in place of therapy dolls or a baby doll – which many Alzheimer’s patients and seniors with dementia (especially women) love to hold.
…doll therapy was a positive intervention for the person living with dementia who was the participant in this research. The findings indicate a reduction in behaviours of concern related to the need for attachment and a considerable decline in levels of anxiety and agitation. There was extensive ongoing improvement in social interactions and communication.National Library of Medicine
Benefits of Stuffed And Robotic Pets For Dementia And Alzheimer’s
Family members may be surprised to learn about the many benefits that a stuffed or robotic pet can provide for their older adults with medical conditions related to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Increased food intake: It’s common for seniors in the late stages of alzheimer and dementia to lose weight. In fact, “weight loss is so common in individuals with AD (Alzheimer’s Disease) that it is listed as a symptom consistent with the diagnosis by the National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke/Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Association Work Group“, according to a study by McKhann et al., in 1984.
It is thought that this weight loss comes from several factors:
- Forgetting to eat
- Repetitive activities
However, in a 2002 study by Edwards and Beck at Purdue University, researchers found that when fish aquariums were viewed by Alzheimer’s and dementia patients on a daily basis for two weeks, and then switched to a weekly basis for six weeks, the patients gained an average of 1.65 pounds, and required less nutritional supplementation.
Reduced need for psychoactive medications and pain medications: A 2017 study by Petersen et al., on how stuffed and robotic pets helped with behavioral care in five dementia care units showed “decreased stress and anxiety in the treatment group and resulted in reductions in the use of psychoactive medications and pain medications in elderly clients with dementia.“
Reduction of anxiety, depression, irritability and loneliness: In addition, pulse rate decreased in the group that interacted with the dementia robotic pets. The 2017 study authors (Petersen et al) report that, “Pulse rate and pulse oximetry have long been validated as indicators of stress and anxiety. As stress or anxiety decrease, the pulse rate is decreased. Both of these are autonomic responses that fluctuate regardless of cognitive ability. Pulse oximetry readings improve as stress decreases.“
The study concluded that, “The treatment group improved and maintained improvements in GSV, pulse oximetry, and pulse-rate over time.“
Robot and stuffed pets for dementia encourage interaction: Some of the benefits of using these types of pets for dementia care include: “reducing negative emotion and behavioral symptoms, improving social engagement, and promoting positive mood and quality of care experience“, according to a study by Hung et al., in 2019.
The authors reported that,”Studies in Norway, US, and New Zealand also found that the social robot helped in the reduction of physical and verbal agitation.“
All of these benefits can help to improve the overall quality of life for the person suffering from these diseases and ease depression. No doubt, that these can be some of the best purchases for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
If you need further proof of how beneficial these pets can be, here is a video of them from BeingPatient.com:
Realistic Stuffed Pets For Dementia Patients
There are many realistic stuffed animal toys these days that can look and feel like real pets and for seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease – these plush animals can provide great comfort and a calming effect for the older adults.
Here are just a few that you can choose from:
Stuffed Pet Rabbit
This beautiful gray rabbit measures 11.81 x 6.29 x 4.72 inches. It’s a super soft and plush toy and can be a wonderful gift for your senior loved one.
Stuffed Pet Puppy
This sweet stuffed pup from the Bearington Collection measures 12.01 x 4.02 x 4.02 inches. A beautiful representation of a Labradoodle puppy! If your senior loved one is a dog person – then this may be a wonderful gift for them.
Stuffed Chocolate Lab Dog
This beautiful chocolate lab dog from the Memorable Pet company measures 16 inches in length making it a perfect lap dog for your loved one.
Stuffed Pet Kitten
For cat lovers, another beautiful animal, this one is a stuffed cat, from the Bearington Collection. This gray kitten measures 13.7 x 8.9 x 4.4 inches. It’s plush, comforting to hold and to pet and can give your senior loved one with dementia many hours of calm pleasure.
Real cats, of course, can be wonderful pets for seniors but for those suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, the care of an animal may just be too much to handle.
So, using a stuffed or robotic one can be a wonderful substitute.
Realistic Robotic Pets For Dementia Patients
There are several kinds of stuffed and lifelike robotic pets on the market today (and more pet companions being developed). Some of the larger and more innovative companies are Tombot, Joy for All (Ageless Innovation), Aibo, and Zoomer.
Read on to get more details on some of the most popular pet types and the companies that make them, as well as an overview of the robot’s capabilities.
Tombot Robotic Dog
The Tombot robotic dog is really new on the robot pet market and they seem to sell out quickly. The company says, “Using groundbreaking technology, fabrics, and animatronic techniques, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop brought the Tombot puppies to life with uniquely life-like expressions, behaviors, and quality.“
These cuties a super realistic. They blink, “speak”, blink, move their head and ears, and make puppy sounds. They also come with sensors in their bodies that allow them to respond when touched. They even respond to voice commands, such as “sit up.”
Remember that the Jim Henson Creature Shop had a hand in developing the robot and you know how lifelike they can make any creature seem! If you watch the video in the section above, you can see just how realistic the dog looks and acts.
Joy For All Hasbro Ageless Lifelike Toy Cat (Ageless Innovation)
Those seniors who have always lived among cats and like them more than dogs should love the Ageless Innovation companion cat from Joy for All.
You can select from a variety of cats for your senior, among them a silver cat with white mitts, an orange tabby, a creamy white kitty, and a black and white one.
The companion pets from Joy for All took home prizes in 2016 and 2017 for caregiver innovation.
It’s no wonder these robotic animals have been featured on BBC Radio, CBS, and in the Baltimore Sun, People Magazine, and the New York Times.
The Ageless Innovation cat has sensors throughout that allow it to react when your senior hugs or pets it. Joy for All also added VibraPurr technology to mimic the most realistic purring you’ll hear. Your senior can even brush the fur of this robotic cat, as it looks and feels amazingly lifelike.
Joy for All’s Ageless Innovation companion cat can do things like move its body and head, open and close its mouth and eyes, and raise a paw.
Joy For All Companion Pet Golden Pup (Ageless Innovation)
We also like the Ageless Innovation companion dog from Joy for All. Admittedly, you can’t choose from different breeds like you could for the cat. That said, this adorable golden retriever-like puppy is sure to win over the heart of anyone, senior or not.
Similar to the Tombot robotic dog, the Joy for All Companion Pet Golden Pup has BarkBack technology for a very realistic bark and other dog sounds. That same technology allows the puppy to listen to its owner’s voice and react accordingly.
It too features sensors for interactivity that feels like having a dog in real life but with none of the responsibilities.
The gentle puppy coat of this robotic dog has a realistic feel that someone with dementia will enjoy petting. The pup even has its own heartbeat, making him a very viable companion.
I would say this is the least realistic looking dog but for some seniors, it may be a perfect fit.
The Zoomer Dog doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a robot. It looks like a robot dog and it isn’t very lifelike. The only fur someone can pet on its plastic body is on the ears and tail.
That said, its actions are somewhat realistic. The manufacturers report that the Zoomer Dog can respond to voice commands. It also “barks” if you give it a belly rub or snuggle with it.
The dog wags its tail, pants and begs, and comes pre-programmed with 25 tricks, however some reviewers say that it is complicated to use and does not respond well to voice commands (specifically, it doesn’t seem to understand them well).
In online reviews, we also noticed that it also seems to break easily.
The Zoomer Dog costs between $70 and $100 online.
Sony Aibo Dog
Sony has a contender in the robotic dog category, called the Aibo Dog. You can see it in the video in the section above (Benefits of Robotic Pets For Dementia And Alzheimer’s).
The Aibo Dog uses artificial intelligence (AI) technology that allow it to remember up to 100 people and their preferences, according to a story by Bridget Carey, on CNet. The robot also has cameras on its back and built in sensors that help it “remember” its surroundings so it learns how to get around in the house.
The more a person interacts with it, the more the Aibo’s personality changes as it learns what its owner is looking for, in terms of playing and the reactions that the person wants from a pet.
Despite looking more robotic than the Joy for All animals or the Tombot Puppy, Ms. Carey reported in her CNet story that, “You know it’s a machine, but there’s something about it that compelled me to give it praise when it nudged up against my leg, or pet it when it whimpered in a corner.”
Robotic Pets For Seniors (Without Dementia)
Robotic pets can be great for seniors, even if they aren’t suffering from dementia. Having a “companion pet” has far reaching impacts on health (both physical and emotional) and mortality rates.
Loneliness and social isolation can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA)
The HRSA website reports that, “Poor social relationships were associated with a 29 percent increase in risk of coronary heart disease and a 32 percent rise in the risk of stroke.“
A recent story in the New York Post highlighted how lonely seniors can be. In the story, a woman received an Ageless Innovation Joy for All Robotic Dog as part of a “new statewide pilot program by the Department for the Aging (DFTA) that distributed mechanical dogs and cats to 60 seniors with the aim of easing loneliness.“
The lady said, “I know it’s mechanical, but when you walk past it, it says something to you, and when you live alone, it matters.” Plus, she has some health concerns and doesn’t have to worry about spending money on the dog (other than the initial purchase) or cleaning up after it.
How Much Does A Robotic Pet Cost?
You might be thinking a robotic pet sounds great, but it’s got to be expensive, right? Yes and no – depending on the company that is selling it.
We’ve compiled a list of the better quality, more realistic robot animals, which are going to be pricier than a toy robot such as the Zoomer Dog.
Still, when you consider there is no food or upkeep to pay for and you will never have a vet bill for a one of these animals, the cost of a robotic pet isn’t that much.
Tombot Puppy Price
The Tombot puppy is currently listed on their website as selling for $399 (marked down from $449). They are not available at the time of publishing this article, though. There is a wait list that you can get onto for no cost, however. The website does not say when these robotic pets are expected to be ready for their next batch of owners.
Joy For All Hasbro Ageless Innovation
The Joy For All Companion Pets Golden Pup retails on Amazon for just under $120 as of this writing. The company’s Companion Cats sell for between $60 and $80 currently.
What Does An Aibo Dog Cost?
At around $2900, the Aibo Dog is the most expensive of these robotic pets. But, keep in mind that the Aibo uses AI technology, cameras, and a range of sensors to figure out its surroundings and learn how to interact with its owner. That type of innovation doesn’t come cheap.
Pet therapy can lessen feelings of depression and anxiety while providing companionship for seniors going through dementia or Alzheimer’s. These pets don’t have to be real to be beneficial. Robotic and stuffed pets have lifelike fur and realistic body movements, so they can provide emotional comfort and feel like a true companion.