The COVID-19 pandemic has led to isolation and loneliness for many people. For those of us lucky enough to have furry friends at home, their companionship has helped ease some of those feelings. With that in mind, the Florida Department of Elder Affairs has been helping lonely seniors, including those with dementia, find their own furry friends: robotic ones.
A recent report from The Gainesville Sun noted that the department began sending Ageless Innovation’s Joy for All Companion Pets to socially isolated seniors and those with Alzheimer’s and dementia back in March. Alexa Phillips, the director of Livable Florida, said that the program, which was created with funding from the federal CARES Act, has sent more than 4,000 robotic companion animals out so far this year.
Among those who have been helped is 87-year-old Gainesville resident Myrtle Feagle, who has dementia. Feagle’s daughter and full-time caregiver, Sylvia Rowell, says her mother was lonely and bored when the pandemic began, which worsened her symptoms. She became more confused and irritable. Then her robotic cat Silver showed up in May.
Rowell said, “My mother fell in love with this thing so much and is so entertained by her that we bought a spare and put it in the closet in case something happened.”
She added that Feagle laughs and talks with Silver, which has provided a lot of interaction.
Feagle isn’t the only one who has benefitted.
In a September article, The Highlands Sun in Sebring, Florida, shared the impact it has had on 102-year-old Carol Thorpe. Thorpe’s aide found out about the program and shared the information with her family. She was excited when she received a silver cat, and quite surprised by all the things it could do.
Thorpe said, “I was shocked. She’s beautiful and she doesn’t talk back. I put her in my lap and when I pet her, she meows… She is great for companionship. You get all of the pluses without the minuses.”
Her son Peter Thorpe says the cat almost seems real and has a relaxing presence.
In a news release from this spring, Florida Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Prudom said, “We know social isolation disproportionately affects older adults, and COVID-19 has required people with dementia and their caregivers to remain alone for extended periods of time. We look forward to delivering these therapeutic robotic pets to those who will benefit from their companionship… We hope these companion robotic pets may help calm individuals living with ADRD and provide some respite for their caregivers. In addition, we are pleased to expand the use of robotic pets to isolated older adults.”
He added that the furry companions improve the mood of participants and give them a greater sense of wellbeing.