When I was a child, I had a stuffed toy dog I named "Fluffy" because he was soft and - well - fluffy. I could hug him and feel comforted. So I don't have any problem believing an animatronic cat might stimulate the memory and imagination of a dementia patient.
Scientists say animals are good for us. They can help reduce stress, relieve anxiety and combat loneliness. And it turns out, the animals don’t even have to be real.
First there was a robot dog, popular with folks who could afford it and who wanted a dog without all the fuss and mess – no fur but lots of personality. Then came the robot cat, also no fur, with soft, silicon skin; the robot cat will respond to several voice commands, which really make it – well – UN-cat-like. But, there’s no litter box to clean, and no allergies to worry about.
Now there is an animatronic cat that is making news because looks and feels like the real thing. It is covered in artificial fur, and is very interactive – it responds to the human voice and hands-on petting. It will meow, purr, blink its eyes, roll over, lick its paws. It will even head-butt the person petting it.
And it’s making big news in the care and treatment of dementia patients. To be honest, it’s not clear whether a dementia patient can tell the mechanical cat isn’t a real live animal, but what matters is that a person usually responds to it the same way they would to a real cat. Plus, there is no danger the pet will bite or scratch or shed or create an allergic reaction; and of course, there is no need for a litter box.
Nursing professors and students at Florida Atlantic University have been using the robotic cats in therapy with dementia patients, but because of COVID-19, many of their patients are now isolated in their homes and unable to attend therapy sessions. So the nursing professors and students are taking these cats to their patients to help reduce anxiety and depression, and slow the effects of dementia.
There is no doubt that having a pet can be good for our mental health. June is a good time to consider getting a new feline friend because it’s Adopt a Cat Month. If you would like a real live cat of your own to improve your perspective and relieve stress, adopt one from your local animal shelter today, when you’re speaking of pets.