Elderly people become attached to robot pets

For most pet owners, cute creatures become just another member of the family, constant companions.

But older people who can no longer care for real pets may feel deprived of the emotional benefits of having an animal friend. In 2020, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found that a quarter of adults aged 65 and over are considered socially isolated, which can affect their mental and physical health.

Ted Fisher, who entered the healthcare industry after working for toy company Hasbro, said older adults want to “play” more with their lives amid the COVID-19 pandemic-exacerbated loneliness epidemic. He is now the co-founder and CEO of Ageless Innovation, which aims to fill this need.

After collecting information from seniors in nursing homes, nursing homes, and independent living communities, Fisher’s team decided that robot pets could make a difference in their lives. In 2015, the company released its first robotic pet, a realistic, interactive cat designed for the elderly. A year later, he created an animatronic dog.

“We look at the world of challenges older people face and say, ‘How can we influence these adults in a more fun, joyful and playful way?’ Fisher said.

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Realism is key, he added. Pets respond to caresses and hugs, barking or meowing in response to conversations. Owners can even feel the cats vibrate when they purr, and both types of animals have simulated heartbeats.

When evaluating emotional responses to robotic pets, UnitedHealthcare and AARP found that the bonds formed reduce loneliness and improve the quality of life of older adults. According to Ageless Innovation, some Medicare Advantage and Medicaid plans have chosen to include mechanical pets in insurance coverage for seniors with depression or Alzheimer’s disease.

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