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A research team at Florida Atlantic University has tested a robotic cat in its ability to influence the mood and cognition of patients with dementia. The furry device moves and make realistic noises, and can provide a source of companionship and entertainment for patients, without the commitment of caring for a real animal. As patients with dementia can experience psychological symptoms, such as anxiety and depression, the technology represents a low impact intervention that avoids the potential side-effects of pharmacological treatment.
Dementia is extremely challenging for those who live with it, as well as for their family and caregivers. Unsurprisingly, patients with dementia often experience psychological symptoms, including anxiety, aggression, and depression. At present, these are often treated using drugs, including benzodiazepines and antidepressants, but such treatments carry a risk of side-effects.
“Since there is no cure for dementia, our project offers a way to address symptoms naturally and without the use of pharmacological treatments, which may or may not be effective and have possible detrimental side effects,” said Bryanna Streit LaRose, a researcher involved in the study.
This latest technique is based on pet therapy, in which interaction with pets, such as cats or dogs, can provide psychological benefits for patients. However, simply releasing a herd of dogs or cats into a care center sounds like a recipe for chaos and disaster, and patients with dementia may not be equipped to care for the needs of a live animal.
These researchers hit on robotics as a solution, whereby a robotic animal could provide the benefits of pet therapy without the complications of live animals. Their device is based on a real cat. It can be stroked and in-turn it interacts with patients by moving and making realistic noises.
In a field trial, the researchers tested the cat in a care home for adults with dementia. Each participant received their own cat, and most enjoyed interacting with the robots.
“In addition to improving mood, behaviors and cognition, these robotic pet cats provided our participants with an alternative way to express themselves,” said Lisa Kirk Wiese, another researcher involved in the study. “Importantly, improving overall mood and behavior in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias may also improve quality of life for their caregivers and family members.”
See a video about the project below.
Study in journal Issues in Mental Health Nursing: Improving Behavioral and Psychological Symptoms and Cognitive Status of Participants With Dementia Through the Use of Therapeutic Interactive Pets