9962860698?profile=RESIZE_710xResearch from FAU’s college of nursing showed battery-operated cats lifted moods of people in cognitive decline even though they were told the cats were not real. Photo provided by FAU

By Arden Moore

Numerous studies published in the past two decades echo what many of us already know in our hearts: Pets are good for our mental health. But a new study based on research conducted by Florida Atlantic University’s Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing verifies that the healing power of pets is not limited to real ones.
Yes, even battery-operated robotic cats can improve mood, behavior and cognition in older adults with mild to moderate dementia. And, during this pandemic roller-coaster ride that limits visits to senior care facilities and hospitals, these high-tech felines are proving to be purr-fect mood-boosting companions.
In 2019, Bryanna Streit LaRose conducted a study on the impact of robotic cats for her doctorate of nursing practice project.
“I decided to use this as my project because I remember growing up and visiting my grandma who was in a memory care unit at a nursing home,” says LaRose. “When visiting her, my family would bring our two dogs. I still remember how all of the residents’ faces lit up with joy and excitement as the dogs approached them.”
LaRose teamed up with Lisa Kirk Wiese, Ph.D., RN, an assistant professor; and Maria Ortega, DNP, APRN, director of FAU’s Louis and Anne Green Memory and Wellness Center, to co-author the results of this study. It was recently published in the peer-reviewed journal Issues in Mental Health Nursing.
In the study, a dozen robotic cats — all black-and-white fluffy “tuxedo” types — “interacted” with attendees at the FAU adult day wellness center for 12 visits. Each battery-operated kitty would purr, cuddle and softly blink its eyes as study participants would talk to them, place them on their laps and even take naps with them.
“We made it clear to them that these are not real cats, but that they were welcome to name their cat,” says Wiese. “The participants in our study gave them names, including Fluffy and Happy, and a couple even named their cats after their spouses. After the study ended, we offered the participants to take their cats home. Some have continued to bring their cat on doctor appointments or took them with them when they moved. A caregiver mentioned that the cat was a wonderful distraction for her mother with dementia when the caregiver needed to be in the kitchen to cook dinner.”
The pandemic closed FAU’s adult day center for about a year, so these robotic cats are now in homes and senior care centers with ongoing research taking place virtually for health safety reasons.
“We now have people from all over the state,” says Wiese. “If you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia, we welcome your participation.”
In the United States, it is estimated that one in three older adults dies with dementia-related diseases. Although there is no cure yet, this non-medication option using robotic cats has improved mood scores in participants.
“Engagement with pets increases your endorphins and helps decrease your risk of cognitive decline,” says Wiese. “These robotic cats help some relate back to a time when they had pets and evoke feelings of joy and happiness. They definitely help to lift one’s spirits.”
Another advantage in using robotic cats during the pandemic is the absence of worries about the safety or care of a real therapy cat or dog during visits.
“The robotic cats we used mimicked real cats,” says LaRose. “Research shows that they seem to provide a sense of comfort and a calming effect.”
What’s next for these FAU robotic cats? They will be used in a project to see how they may combat loneliness as well as physical and psychological symptoms of dementia in older adults in this coronavirus time.
The pandemic has prevented me and my certified therapy cat Casey and dog Kona from visiting memory care centers together. We miss interacting with the residents.
So, I am hoping that more centers will take FAU’s lead and offer these battery-operated felines to generate smiles and joy for people with memory issues. The sound of a sweet purr and the feel of a fluffy coat from a real or faux feline can definitely bring on happy smiles.

Read the study
Here is the link to view the complete study published in Issues in Mental Health Nursing:
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01612840.2021.1979142

Sign up for a robotic cat
Florida residents are eligible to order a robotic cat for free through the Florida Department of Elder Affairs. These special cats are for people with health-related issues and are not just toys. Also, it takes about eight to 12 weeks for delivery. Learn more at this link:
https://elderaffairs.org/programs-services/livable-florida/livable-initiatives/

Arden Moore, founder of FourLeggedLife.com, is an animal behavior consultant, author, speaker and master certified pet first-aid instructor. She hosts Oh Behave! weekly on PetLifeRadio.com. Learn more at www.ardenmoore.com.

 

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