Robotic pets bring joy to nursing home in New York

World Today

Pet therapy has been known as an effective method to help patients cope with health issues and mental disease, but what about robotic pets? One experiment at a nursing home in New York has seen surprising results from introducing life-like robotic cats.

CGTN’s New York correspondent Liling Tan finds out.

Robotic pets bring joy to nursing home in New York

Robotic pets bring joy to nursing home in New York

Pet therapy has been known as an effective method to help patients cope with health issues and mental disease, but what about robotic pets? One experiment at a nursing home in New York has seen surprising results from introducing life-like robotic cats.
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They meow, they purr, and they’re full of expression. And for 97-year-old Justina LaCanfora and 81-year-old Jeanette Rotanz, these robotic tabby cats are the purrrrrrfect companions.

Robotic cats are the new addition to Hebrew Home at Riverdale in the Bronx, New York, and a hit among residents here, especially those struggling with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. But do they know the cats aren’t real?

“I think some residents in some moments and some residents in other moments don’t know. And the truth is that it doesn’t really matter. As long as they’re experiencing joy and dignity, we follow their journey wherever it takes them and we support the journey wherever it goes,” Director of Therapeutic Activities at the Hebrew Home Mary Farkas said.

Parent company, RiverSpring Health sees the robotic cats as an important supplement to its live pet therapy program, not a replacement.

“The live animals go home at the end of the day. But for the residents who live and suffer with Alzheimers disease, sometimes it’s the evening and nights that create the most distress. And the robotic cats are available to our staff and to our residents all through the night and on the weekends when some of our pets are not here,” said Daniel Reingold, president and chief executive of RiverSpring Health.

Hebrew Home currently has 34 robotic cats, and has ordered another 16. It retails at $99.

American toymaker Hasbro makes a robotic cat as part of its Joy For All Companion Pet range of product. And not only does it look and feel very much like the real thing, built-in sensors also respond to motion and touch.

The cat even rolls over for a belly rub!

RiverSpring Health tried out its first robotic cat in March last year. Now, residents have access to 34 cats, and 16 more are on their way.

“One of the beauties of the robotic cat is that there are no drugs used to calm a person down who might be in some distress. And so the fact that there’s no side effects, there’s no drug interaction, is an added benefit,” Reingold said.