Madelyne Glover, an occupational therapist, introduced robotic dogs and cats to aged care homes in South Perth. The robots were as real as they could be – they were fluffy, cuddly and they act, feel and look like real dogs and cats.
The robots: Toby the dog and cats Marmalade and Chino have sensors that replicate the behavior of a living animal.
“As you touch them behind the head or underneath the chin, they’ll respond and they’ll respond to your speech as well,” Glover told ABC News. “They rollover, they meow or bark depending on how you touch the pet.”
Jason Burton, head of the dementia practice and innovation with Alzheimer’s WA, told ABC News that the use of the robots help trigger happy memories in dementia patients.
“If we can find interactions that tap into that emotional memory of good times and times you were feeling happy, contented or caring for something, then it can bring back those long-term memories and that leads to a sense of wellbeing,” said Burton.
However, Burton said they should not rely entirely on the props.
“There is a place for them but they shouldn’t ever be used to replace the real thing,” Burton added. “We would always advocate for interactions with real things rather than robotic or plush toys, but the reality is that’s not always possible.”
Burton said that the robotic pets help in forming a broader mix of the dementia patients’ cognitive stimuli.
“It’s not fixing the brain, it’s not curing the dementia, but it’s tapping into those long-term senses of wellbeing, and when you do that it actually starts to overcome some of the disabilities of dementia that people face,” he said.