Hasbro has recently developed a new line of toys that is aimed at helping senior citizens cope with loneliness. The first of the Joy for All Companion Pets line is a robotic cat that has a variety of simple sensors all along its body that provoke different lifelike reactions. This robocat was developed for seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia, and to help battle depression and other mental illnesses that many seniors have to deal with.
The concept of companion pets for seniors isn’t an entirely new idea, with many different brands attempting to make versions of their own. Recent technology has allowed these toys to simulate life in a way that is appealing to seniors and others suffering from various mental illnesses. For someone who receives regular in-home senior care, or is a resident of a nursing home where people are constantly taking care of them, it can give quite a sense of empowerment to feel as though they have something that they are taking care of.
For many seniors the stress of taking care of a real pet can be far too much for them to handle, leading to a feeling of failure on the part of the senior and poor care for the pet. Often times when families try to surprise their elderly family members with a cat or dog, it creates a situation where the family or caregiver ends up having yet another series of tasks to help out with around the house, and you always run the risk of the pet not being particularly friendly towards their new senior companion. These companion pets from Hasbro on the other hand are said to feel like the real thing and provide a similar feeling of companionship that seniors get from having a real pet. Many elderly cat lovers have taken quite a liking to their robotic companions because while they know that it’s not a real cat, it reminds them of cats that they’ve had.
Many seniors are well aware that they are not in a place where they could deal with a real pet, and having a robotic pet that you can talk to, responds to your petting, and can move and interact with you simulates enough of an experience to be an appropriate alternative. For nursing home patients, and seniors living at home, these companion pets are showing measurable results for seniors battling with loneliness and depression. Research has shown time and again that loneliness and depression are some of the main problems that affect the emotional and mental health of seniors, and simple companionship (even from a robot) can go a long way to keeping these feelings at bay.
One of the most famous companion pets on the market is the Japanese developed Paro the Seal. Paro is a robotic seal that is technically referred to as medical technology and carries a significantly higher price tag than Hasbro’s companion pets, which Paro creator, Takanori Shibata, has referred to as “just toys”. Coming in at a cool $5000, Paro is being used in hospitals across the world as a therapeutic measure for people of all ages, suffering from a wide variety of illnesses. The cute and cuddly seal companion can restore hope for patients going through chemo, children with terminal illnesses, and adults with special needs.
Originally the idea came about as an alternative to animal-assisted therapy, which has shown great results for all types of patients and especially for boosting spirits of seniors in nursing home facilities. The drawback to animal-assisted therapy is the fact that therapy dogs and cats can only work for so long before they get worn out, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll be friendly to everyone. Robotic companions on the other hand can work until they need to be recharged and run their programming no matter who is holding them.
These robotic companions are rapidly gaining popularity, creating a whole new market for toy developers and manufacturers to take advantage of. Many nursing homes and in-home care agencies are starting to deploy these robocats and robodogs as a part of their senior care regimen, and getting good results from it. It will be interesting to see how these robotic companions evolve moving forward and what new kinds of therapy emerge as a result of this technology.