Dear Savvy Senior,
I recently read an article about robotic pets being a great substitute for pet-loving seniors who can’t have or take care of a pet any longer. What do you think of this? My mother, who has some dementia, is living in an assisted- living facility that doesn’t allow pets. And because of COVID, we haven’t been allowed inside the facility to visit her since March. I’ve been thinking about getting her a robot pet to help cheer her up but would like to know whether they are worth buying and, if so, where can I go to find one. — Locked Out Daughter
Dear Locked Out,
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’s 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, and 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 done in aging agencies in Alabama, Florida and Pennsylvania have also shown positive results.
Other clinical studies conducted by AARP, UnitedHealthcare and other clinicians 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, by providing a level of interaction and comfort from a lifelike companion.
Where to look
If you’re interested in getting your mom a robotic pet, a top option is Ageless Innovation’s Joy for All Companion Pets — see JoyForAll.com.
It offers cats, a kitten and a pup 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, these soft, plush animals have built-in sensors, “vibrapurr” or “barkback” technology and brushable fur, making them surprisingly realistic.
Insert four batteries, and the cats, which come in four different shades to mimic real breeds, 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 backside — they’ll let out a purr.
If your mom is more of a dog person, you can also buy a stuffed golden puppy, accessorized with a red bandanna, that will bark if he’s feeling happy, sad or needy. At only 4 pounds the stuffed pup is easy to play with and won’t weigh down even the most fragile frame.
Some other robotic pet options you should look into include Tombot’s Jennie ($399; tombot.com), a lapdog that barks on command and has realistic facial features; Aibo ($2,900; us.aibo.com) by Sony, which is a plastic puppy that has lifelike expressions and a dynamic array of movements; and Paro the Seal ($6,120; parorobots.com), which is marketed as a “carebot,” designed specifically for people with dementia.
Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.