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Displaying items by tag: senior loneliness

A therapeutic innovation launched during the COVID-19 pandemic is making its way into mainstream care of older adults who live alone and those who have dementia. Lifelike robotic cats and dogs are an effective way to help seniors enhance social interaction, improve symptoms of depression, and reduce feelings of loneliness. These robotic pets can even be purchased by family members to gift to a loved one – perfect for the holiday season.

Loneliness Increases among Older Adults in Winter Months

Feelings of loneliness, depression, and isolation can increase dramatically during the winter months, particularly around the holiday season. Among older adults, these feelings can become overwhelming – worsening their symptoms and increasing risk for accidents and even suicide. Research shows that something as simple as a lifelike pet cat or dog can significantly improve wellbeing for older adults, including those with Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias. 

Therapeutic Animatronic Dog or Cat Enhances Social-Emotional Wellbeing for Seniors

The positive impact of these therapeutic robotic pets include improved mood and affect, better communication and meaningful social interaction, including having a sense of being needed by the companion robot pet. 

Additional positive emotions experienced when interacting with a therapeutic robotic pet include:

  • Joy
  • Surprise
  • Empathy
  • Gentleness
  • Connection 

Older adults who have access to a robotic pet may also have better outcomes during a hospitalization, including less delirium, loneliness, fewer falls, and reduced need for a 1:1 companion. Some studies point to older adults with a robotic pet having enhanced cognitive function, less agitation, and less anxiety; although more research is needed in these areas.

Animatronic Therapeutic Pets Ideal for Seniors in Many Living Arranagements 

Initially launched in the spring of 2020, in a partnership between Ageless Innovation and the Department of Elder Affairs in Florida (among other states) the program provided lifelike Joy for All Companion Pets® as a means to facilitate and enhance interaction between an older adult and their caregivers and family members. Since the end of the pandemic, the therapeutic robotic pets have been used in a variety of settings including senior centers, hospitals, nursing homes, memory care facilities, and senior living communities.  

Mood Enhancing Behaviors for Older Adults with a Therapeutic Robotic Pet

Some of the mood enhancing interactions that have been observed between seniors and their therapeutic robot pets include:

  • Cuddling
  • Grooming
  • Petting
  • Sleeping with the pet
  • Naming the pet
  • Taking the pet with them on outings
  • Playing
  • Gathering in a communal area to talk to others about their “pet”
  • Intergenerational connection between an elder and a young child

Features of the Robotic “Thera-Pet”

The robotic pet cat or dog (and now birds are available) has motion sensors in the head, cheek, back, tummy and other areas so the animatronic can respond to petting. Each also has sound effects (purrs, cries, barks), which can be turned off for an elder with audio sensitivity. The fur is very soft and inspired by the texture of real animal coats. The “pets” can mimic a “nuzzling” action, can detect light in the room and respond to it with vocalizations, can bark and purr depending on movement and room setting. The robotic pets come in a variety of colors, too.

To discuss incorporating a Joy For All Companion Pet into the care plan for your loved one, please inquire with your health care provider. If your loved one is a resident at one of the Everbrook Senior Living Communities, please inquire with our Wellness staff. If your loved one is not a resident at one of our beautiful communities schedule a visit today.   

Resources

Florida Department of Elder Affairs

Hudson J, Ungar R, Albright L, Tkatch R, Schaeffer J, Wicker ER. Robotic Pet Use Among Community-Dwelling Older Adults. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2020 Oct 16;75(9):2018-2028. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbaa119. PMID: 32789476; PMCID: PMC7566965.

Koh WQ, Ang FXH, Casey D. Impacts of Low-cost Robotic Pets for Older Adults and People With Dementia: Scoping Review. JMIR Rehabil Assist Technol. 2021 Feb 12;8(1):e25340. doi: 10.2196/25340. PMID: 33497349; PMCID: PMC8082946.

Ihamäki P, Heljakka K. Robot Pets as "Serious Toys"- Activating Social and Emotional Experiences of Elderly People. Inf Syst Front. 2021 Aug 14:1-15. doi: 10.1007/s10796-021-10175-z. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34413702; PMCID: PMC8364409. 

Petersen S, Houston S, Qin H, Tague C, Studley J. The Utilization of Robotic Pets in Dementia Care. J Alzheimers Dis. 2017;55(2):569-574. doi: 10.3233/JAD-160703. PMID: 27716673; PMCID: PMC5181659.

Published in Information

The outbreak of COVID-19 or Coronavirus has spread fear much more virulently than the disease itself although older adults being at high risk of mortality from coronavirus certainly have much to fear. Self-isolation as a method to reduce transmission risk may not be an optimal response to the coronavirus threat for very old adults because social isolation and loneliness have been shown to be detrimental to the physical and mental well-being of seniors. Isolating seniors amid such high tension can only serve to heighten the risk to their mental and physical health. Social isolation and loneliness are prevalent among the elderly because their social networks tend to shrink in later life due to losses of friends, family or from age related functional loss. As whole communities retreat into isolation to ease concerns about acquiring coronavirus, the vulnerable elderly living in near isolation will be forced to deal with fears of dying or media reports of impending doom all alone. What an alarming development!

All gatekeepers to the elderly should increase urgency to help seniors stay connected socially during the coronavirus crisis. What seniors in later life need more than ever are peers sharing similar feelings of distress about coronavirus who can band together and help each other through this most difficult period. Gatekeepers to the elderly are reminded that social isolation and loneliness though not the same, are widely recognized among health experts as a cause of poorer health among the elderly. Social isolation is measured objectively by the number of contacts we have which can drop sharply as we age.1 Loneliness is measured subjectively as the difference between one’s desired and achieved levels of social connectedness which can increase as we age.2

Published in Information
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