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Sunday April 18, 2021

Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

How Robotic Pets Can Help Isolated Individuals Avoid Loneliness

I recently read an article about robotic pets being a great substitute for pet-loving seniors who cannot have or take care of a pet any longer. What do you think of this? My mother, who has dementia, is living in an assisted living facility that does not allow pets. Because of COVID, we have not been allowed inside the facility to visit her since March. I have been thinking about getting her a robot pet to help cheer her up but would like to know if they are worth buying.

There have actually been several studies on this topic that have shown that robotic pets – which are lifelike interactive pets – can have a positive impact on many lonely, socially isolated seniors, especially those who have dementia. This is particularly important now as the pandemic has caused millions of high-risk, vulnerable seniors to isolate as a means to protect themselves from the coronavirus. Here is what you should know.

Robotic Pet Studies

In 2018, the New York State Office for the Aging was the first state in the U.S. to test the robotic pets with isolated seniors. Results showed that using pets to lower social isolation was highly successful, with 70% of pilot participants reporting a decrease in isolation after one year. Subsequent programs completed by aging agencies in Alabama, Florida and Pennsylvania have also shown positive results.

Other clinical studies conducted by AARP, UnitedHealthcare and other clinicians have found similar outcomes. The studies have also found that robotic pets can help to enhance the well-being and quality of life of lonely or isolated individuals and those living with dementia and other forms of cognitive decline. The studies showed the robotic pets provided a level of interaction and comfort similar to a lifelike companion.

Where to Look

If you are interested in getting your mom a robotic pet, look for options targeted for seniors, rather than marketed as children's toys. Some of the targeted robot pet companies offer cats and dogs that look, feel and sound like the real thing – minus the feeding, watering, litter box or backyard cleanup, and the vet bills. With prices ranging between $65 and $130. Some of the options include soft, plush animals with built-in sensors that allow for purring and barking. They also may have brushable fur, making them surprisingly realistic.

They may be found in different shades to mimic real breeds. Some of the robotic pets can open and close their eyes, lift their paws, and move their head and body. If you pet them in the right spot – like on their belly or back– they will let out a purr.

If your mom is more of a dog person, you can also find stuffed puppies that will bark if it is feeling happy, sad or needy. The robotic pets are relatively light in comparison to a live pet. The stuffed pup is easy to play with and will not weigh down even the most fragile frame.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published December 4, 2020
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