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Therapy pets can't help Alzheimer's patients right now. But there's a robotic alternative

Michelle Marchante, Miami Herald on

Published in Cats & Dogs News

MIAMI -- Social distancing has changed everything, including how to care for a loved one with Alzheimer or dementia. There might be an increase of stress, confusion and behavior issues during this time because of their disrupted routine, according to the Alzheimer Association.

There are at-home therapeutic activities you can do to help calm them down.

You could get them a free furry robotic friend through Florida's Department of Elder Affairs to keep them company. The robots are designed to look, move and act like cats and dogs.

The department says it's planning to deliver more than 375 free robotic pets this week to socially isolated senior citizens and adults living with Alzheimer's disease and related dementia to "improve their daily mood and give them a greater sense of well-being" during Florida's stay-at-home orders and social distancing requirements.

The interactive robotic pets are meant to be an alternative to traditional pet therapy and can help give a reprieve to caretakers who are stressed about caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's or another dementia during the COVID-19 crisis, according to the department.

Researchers say robotic pets can be a good alternative for people with dementia who are scared of animals or live in a home or healthcare facility that does not accept animals for fear of infections or other issues, such as allergies, bites or scratches.


Robotic pets have been used in various countries since 2003 and have previously shown positive results similar to those of real animals, according to a 2016 study published in the "Journal of Alzheimer's Disease," which looked to assess the effectiveness of robotic pet therapy in treating dementia-related symptoms such as anxiety and depression.

The study found that the robots helped decrease stress and anxiety and also caused a reduction in the use of psychoactive medications and pain medications for patients with dementia.

And while the robotic pets are normally used to treat adults with Alzheimer's or other dementia, officials hope the pets will also help senior citizens who live alone and miss seeing their families and friends during the novel coronavirus situation.

Pet assisted therapy programs use the comfort, joy and love companion animals can bring to help improve someone's physical and emotional health, according to the Humane Society of Greater Miami and the Humane Society of Broward County, both which have a volunteer-driven pet assisted therapy program.


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