Robotic pets bring smiles to Crowne residents

Published 3:34 pm Wednesday, August 26, 2020

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Imagine a loved one fighting the ravages of a dementia-related condition making a new friend—one who is furry, cuddly, friendly and responsive to your loved one. Now imagine such a furry friend that doesn’t require walks, meals, baths, litter boxes or vet visits.

Welcome to the world of robotic pets, which have become a go-to form of therapy in many nursing homes and  elder care centers.

A resident at Crowne Healthcare of Greenville received the facility’s first robotic pet, a golden lab puppy named “Buddy,” this summer. The new pet was provided to the facility courtesy of Breanna Pettway of the Ombudsman’s Office, says Sandra Medley, director of social services for Crowne.

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“Breanna contacted me and said they had a limited number of robotic pets and she had chosen our nursing home to receive one. We had to fill out an assessment form for the resident who we chose to receive the puppy,” Medley explained.

“The assessment form was a ‘loneliness scale’ to determine if the resident would benefit. We then send a monthly report to them to let them know how the resident is responding to the pet.”

Each pet is for one resident only. With COVID-19, the residents are not able to see their love ones, Medley says, and emotional loneliness has become a real concern.

“A robotic pet gives them something to focus on and to share their love and attention, and it’s a great companion to them. The pets have proven to be very successful with people with dementia, so we were so excited to get one for our facility,” Medley said.

She says Buddy has been an even great success with his new owner than she could have imagined.

“She was exhibiting certain behaviors, and he has played a huge part in helping with those,” Medley said. “Our resident’s response to him has been nothing short of amazing.  She takes care of him, looks out for him, feeds him, talks to him and takes him wherever she goes. We went in one day and she had even put her mask on him—so I brought a few extra masks from home just for Buddy.”

While pet therapy has long been used in working with dementia patients, there is a downside to the use of live animals, including possible allergy issues, infections, biting, scratching and even the fear of animals among some patients. According to the National Institutes of Health, robotic pets offer the same calming influence and reduced anxiety seen with live pet therapy, without the potential problems.

The robotic animals have brushable fur and built-in sensors that respond to motion and touch. According to the product descriptions, the cats offer VibraPurr technology to realistically mimic the sound and sensation of a feline’s purr, while BarkBack techology allows the robotic puppies to respond to human voices.

“I think this is one of the best possible uses of technology out there and it’s affordable,” Medley said. “We are so excited at the prospect of  having others getting on board with this.”

On Tuesday morning, a robotic kitty arrived at Crowne to become one of the residents’ pampered pets. Comfort Care Hospice of Greenville is donating this latest addition, complete with an adoption certificate, with a second feline courtesy of the Ombudsman’s Office due to arrive soon at Crowne.

Medley is hoping more businesses, civic organizations, Sunday School classes, school service clubs, families and individuals will consider donating a robotic cat or dog for one of Crowne’s residents.

“It’s really easy. These Joy For All robotic pets are available online from several outlets, but we generally recommend Amazon. They retail for anywhere from $100 to $130, depending on the type you choose. You can have them shipped to you or have them mailed directly to our facility,” explained Medley.

Medley is sold on the benefits of robotic pets for dementia patients.

“We ask that you please consider donating a pet. It can make such a positive difference in a resident’s quality of life,” she said.

The address of the facility is Crowne Healthcare, 408 Country Club Drive, Greenville, AL 36037. Contact Sandra Medley at (334) 382-2693 for more information about the robotic pet program at Crowne.