Robot pets helping patients communicate

A kitten’s soft purr or a puppy’s wagging tail may be fond memories for those who appreciate the joys of animal companionship.

And to individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia, even robotic animal gestures can have positive effects on communication and well-being, according to Corey Pague of Passages Hospice. The organization recently introduced a therapeutic baby seal robot to residents at two area care centers.

“People pet him, stroke him, sing to him. And I’ve had residents in nursing homes who haven’t spoken in over a year, and when this robot comes in, they speak again,” said Pague, who is hospice educator for Passages.

“Studies have shown it significantly decreases depression and increases the ability to communicate, from the nurturing aspect of it,” Pague said.

Animals have long been used in therapy, but as this quote from a Sun Times article demonstrates, some caretakers are experimenting with substituting robots for the real thing. The robots are no child’s toy though, these highly specialized units react to voice, light, touch, and more, making them a fair simulation of real animals without the accompanying extra effort involved.

Pets, apparently regardless of whether they’re living or robotic, are said to bring back happy memories in patients, especially of childhood, making them particularly useful tools for aiding Alzheimer’s and dementia patients who often suffer from fear or confusion.

There’s no telling yet if this trend will catch on, but it’s always a pleasure to see new learning and innovation in the field of hospice care.