January 20, 2017 11:18 pm

Robotic animals used at Ontario health centre prove to be important tool to sooth dementia patients

WATCH ABOVE: They bark, purr and roll over. They are not real but robotic cats and dogs are proving to be a valuable tool to help reduce agitation and anxiety among dementia patients. Christina Stevens reports.

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The purring sound is unmistakable.

As 86-year-old Bruce Hickey, looks down at the kitty and give it a pat, its head tilts.

“You’re cute. Wow,” exclaimed Hickey.

But the cat isn’t real. It is a robotic feline which interacts with people.

Hickey’s daughter said the fake feline has proven to be a great companion.

“When he is having a happy day and there is something that can make him happy, that’s a big difference for us,” said Diane Penner.


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Robotic cats and dogs have become little short of heroes at Ontario Shores’ Geriatric Dementia Unit.

Research has shown pet therapy with live animals can reduce anxiety, but it is impractical to have animals in an institution 24 hours a day.

Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences decided to see if a substitute would work, and it did.

“We see them calm right away. The idea of stroking something can be soothing, and the soft fur,” said Bethany Holeschek, clinical practice leader at Ontario Shores.

“A lot of them like to take care of the animal and nurture it, so really providing purpose, meaning and comfort,” said Dr. Robyn Waxman, geriatric psychiatrist and medical director of the Geriatric and Neuropsychiatry Program at Ontario Shores.

She said they have considered the ethical question of whether it is in a sense “tricking” the patients, but she added the benefits outweigh the concerns.

“This is one of those tools that will hopefully reduce agitation and anxiety without possibly using a medication that will have its own potential host of side affects,” said Waxman.

The robotic pets can play an extra special role for patients who used to own cats or dogs.

“We’ve even seen tears. Sometimes it brings back the memory of an old pet and that can be soothing for them too. It’s a change from feeling restless and anxious to them feeling calm or a different emotion,” said Holeschek.

Penner said it’s a perfect solution for her father.

“All we want at this point if for him to be happy and comfortable. It’s very important,” she said.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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