Robotic pets bringing joy to seniors

Social isolation, shrinking friendship circles and difficulties managing once-loved hobbies are some of the challenges that older Australians face as they age. Regardless of age, many people choose to adopt a pet to enrich their lives.

Pet ownership has been proven to reduce social isolation, with flow-on benefits to physical and psychological health.

However, despite the well-regarded benefits of pet ownership, the financial and physical demands of caring for a pet can become challenging, particularly as health deteriorates. Within an aged care community, therapy animals can help.

Jean Johnson from Carinity Fairfield Grange aged care enjoying being with companion pet Billy
Jean Johnson from Carinity Fairfield Grange aged care enjoying being with a robotic companion pet that residents have named Billy.

While therapy animals, such as visiting dogs or cats – or even horses – have played a valued role in aged care communities for some time, an increasingly common sight within Carinity’s communities are robotic pets.

These life-like therapeutic companion robots simulate the sounds and movements of real animals and respond to touch, providing two-way interaction. Their fur is realistic, providing additional tactile sensation and encouraging engagement. Residents can even feel the vibration of a cat purring and the ‘heartbeat’ of the dogs.

They may be electronic devices, but the companion pets bring much joy for older seniors and have physical and psychological benefits for aged care residents, including those living with dementia.

Carinity Hilltop Residential Manager, Ramandeep Gill, says the therapeutic devices enhance the wellbeing of residents and prompt increased social interaction, particularly during periods of increased isolation due to COVID-19 lockdowns.

“Just like patting a real dog or cat, the robotic companion pets offer a comforting presence for residents,” Ramandeep explains.

“Interacting with companion animals can help to improve residents’ health, wellbeing and social interaction, providing opportunities for residents to share stories about the pets they had in their younger years.

“Some residents living with dementia who may be unresponsive to other therapies may brighten up, pat and talk to the companion pet.”

Beryl Boorman from Carinity Hilltop with one of the aged care community's three companion pets.
Beryl Boorman from Carinity Hilltop with one of the aged care community’s three companion pets.

It’s not just about providing an amusing distraction or a conversation starter to share pet stories. Studies have shown that robotic companion pets, or social robots, helped to improve residents’ moods, communication, and interaction. The pets were also found to provide a calming effect for residents, including people living with dementia.

While they may not fully replicate the experience of interacting with a real animal, robotic companion animals certainly have their place in our aged care communities – to bring joy.

“The reactions from these residents have been incredibly positive. The smiles on their faces are priceless,” says Ramandeep.

With robotic companion pets very popular amongst our residents, Carinity was privileged to receive a donation of three additional furry friends from a local school.

Junior school students from Kelvin Grove State College wanted to support older members of their community, so they decided to raise money for Carinity Hilltop.

Abbie Duncan was a member of the school’s Junior Student Representative Council (SRC), which was behind the charitable donation.

Abbie Duncan with a companion pet which Kelvin Grove State College students will name with a contest at the school.
Abbie Duncan with a companion pet purchased with money raised by Kelvin Grove State College students.

“Our SRC teachers asked for us to come up with some ideas for what we could fundraise for, for our free dress day that was coming up, and we wanted to support something in the local community,” Abbie says.

“I knew the residents in aged care had been in lockdown and had been doing it tough during COVID, so we thought it would be a good idea to help them by fundraising.”

Carinity resident Beth Poole is thankful for the newest furry members of the Hilltop community. “I think they are very comforting to hold. They’re very good. They remind me of how much I loved my dog. It brings back good memories.”


Read more stories from Belong: Autumn 2022 | Edition 25

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