They're All Bark And No Bite! Robotic Pets Are Giving Comfort To Lonely Seniors

In this time of social distancing, these low-maintenance pets are bringing joy to isolated elders.

The coronavirus crisis has been tough on all of us, but it's been especially hard for seniors. With nursing homes in some areas still restricting access to visitors, it's been almost eight months since patients have seen their loved ones.

Some nursing homes and elder care facilities have been coming up with creative ways to keep their residents occupied during the pandemic.

State agencies in Alabama, Pennsylvania and New York have partnered with Ageless Innovation, a robotic pet manufacturer, to help fight loneliness and provide seniors with some companionship during the crisis.

Along with those who suffer from loneliness, the pets also provide comfort to seniors with dementia. Joy for All Companion Pets/Facebook

The company developed a line of 'Joy for All Companion Pets' that look, feel and sound like real animals. Elders can choose a cat or a dog companion for an interactive play experience intended to give them comfort and provide relief from feelings of isolation.

"We have technology inside that product that allows you to respond to touch and sound and light in different ways. And what we found is older adults wanted realism," Ageless Innovation's CEO Ted Fischer told CNN. "That's part of the magic of a companion pet."

The robotic pets have life-like fur, make subtle movements and make sounds to 'communicate' with their owners. Joy for All Companion Pets/Facebook

While the thought of interacting with a robotic pet might seem weird, a pilot program launched in New York to test the effectiveness of the companion pets showed that 70% of participants reported a decrease in isolation after one year of having the pet in their homes.

When the Alabama Department of Senior Services found out about the study, they jumped on board and ordered robotic pets for seniors living at several of their centers.

"When I learned that we might be able to help ease the feelings of loneliness for around $100 per recipient I thought that would be a great way to try it out," Jean Brown, the department's Commissioner, said.

Just months later, some facilities are ordering their second round of pets after seeing the positive effects they've had on their residents.

Studies have shown the pets have a calming effect on seniors, and can improve behavior with the use of drugs. Joy for All Companion Pets/Facebook

Marlene Diehl, who lives at home in Tampa, FL, recently received a robotic dog as part of a new program sponsored by the Florida Alzheimer's Association and Department of Elder Affairs.

Since Florida became one of the hot-spots for the virus, she hasn't had many visitors. She says the dog, who she named Buddy, has "changed her life."

"It's been nice. He sits over there, but I had him on my lap this morning," Diehl told Fox-13. "Patting and talking to him.

Joy for All Companion Pets/Facebook

While the companion pets certainly won't solve all of the problems seniors are facing in this new age of social-distancing, if they can help them feel less lonely, that's a big help.

"What the pets allow them is something or someone to interact with," Becky Moultrie, a home care employee, said. "It gives them some joy during their day."

The pets have been known to stimulate conversation and increase interactions with withdrawn residents. Joy for All Companion Pets/Facebook

We love the idea of giving seniors robotic pets to keep them company. And the best part is, no vet bills or clean-up needed!

How can you start something good?

You can learn more about the Joy for All Companion Pets by visiting their website.

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