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Robotic pets bring 'soothing, calming' escape to retirement home

Program at Amica Little Lake in Barrie has helped one woman overcome shyness and also assisted others in managing dementia symptoms

Memory care residents at Amica Little Lake in Barrie have been receiving doses of joy and purpose from a robotic pet program focused on helping to manage symptoms associated with dementia.

While providing comfort, reducing stress and promoting relaxation, company officials say robot pets have proven to be great companions for individuals, yet not needing any actual care as real pets would require.

“We have seen first-hand how robotic pets are able to invoke positive emotion and improve quality of life, stimulate motor skills, and provide an outlet for residents with a nurturing spirit to care for someone else,” says Amy Lee, a life enrichment specialist with Amica Senior Lifestyles.

One positive impact of the program is how residents at the north-end facility have been able to connect with the pets in thoughtful and original ways.

For instance, Lee highlighted a story about a shy woman whose robotic dog sits on her walker and serves as a conduit to engage socially.

“She loves her dog so much that she has created a place for the pet on her walker and brings him wherever she goes,” Lee tells BarrieToday.

Lee pointed out this relationship with the robotic pet has acted as a platform to connect with others and brings the woman closer to fellow residents, families, and team members.

The furry robot friends also enable residents to “escape” from the world and reminisce about enjoyable times in their lives.

“The robotic pets are soothing and calming and assist with redirection in a meaningful way, even if the residents don’t have the capacity to care for a real-life pet,” she said.

Lee illustrated her point by using the example of a resident with dementia who was introduced to a robotic cat as she paced around the lounge and rubbed her hands together.

“In a matter of seconds, the resident demonstrated positive emotions and compassion for the cat, sat down and started petting and interacting with it,” she says.

The robotic pet adoption process is personalized to each resident who shows interest in them.

Lee explained if there is a fit, the life enrichment team will empower the resident to purchase one.

The program takes into account the resident’s family history, friends, routines, hobbies, and interests.

“Some residents enjoy seeing them around in our common spaces, while other residents really take to it individually, but our teams generally use them in a one-on-one setting,” she says.

The routines of residents with their robotic dogs and cats include grooming, feeding, playing with them, and other typical pet-owner engagement. The pets are interactive and react to being petted or hugged.

Lee says she has heard nothing but positive feedback from Amica residents since the long-term care provider started incorporating the program into its residences.

“I have seen such unbelievable benefits for residents who connect with Amica’s robotic pets, including those who have dementia and also those who are completely independent,” she says.

Robotic pets are part of the Amica Senior Lifestyles standard complement that has been offered in its new residences.

“Since it is a new program and we like to trial-run programming, the robotic pets have been rolled out in new residences as they open. However, with continued success, this may change in the future,” Lee says.