Furry friends offer heartwarming support for dementia patients
Can facilities tap these toys for traditional care?
Back in 2015, the Hasbro toy company debuted a line of stuffed animals named ‘Joy for All’ Companion Pets. The robotic cats and dogs were aimed not at children, but at the adult market—mainly, LTC residents living with dementia and other conditions. While introducing real pets to the nursing home setting might be considered dangerous and burdensome, these cute talking toys promise “no vet bills, just love.”
For years, caregivers have been singing their praises. Now, researchers hope to take the pet project one step further with animals capable of delivering other forms of care. Set to hit the market as early as 2020, the new prototype comes from the University of Cincinnati where graduate students run focus groups within a local healthcare network.
Man’s best physician
Early rumblings about the project say robots will come equipped with a ‘smart collar,’ which can be programmed to perform a variety of caregiving tasks. Like a real doctor or nurse, the animals will monitor and interact with residents throughout the day. Of course, these practical skills are in addition to the pets’ fuzzy comfort and companionship.
Two years ago, the National Science Foundation bestowed a $1M grant for the project. Now that these animal automatons are coming closer to fruition, industry advocates are expressing their anticipation. Researchers are equally excited.
“We have always believed the engaging Joy for All platform will serve as the foundation for meaningful opportunities to deepen our impact through the power of play,” says Ageless Innovation CEO Ted Fischer. “Two large studies of the role of robotic pets in combating social isolation, loneliness and dementia in older adults are set to be published in national medical journals in the coming months.”
While senior care communities will have to wait for the updated pets to hit shelves, the original robotic companion animals are still available via the Joy for All online store. As of May 2019, companion tabby cats cost $99.99, while golden pups retail for $119.99.