Grace Place receives companion ‘pet’ for dementia patients

Interactive robotic dog encourages dementia patient activity, engagement

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Deacon Jerry Jacob meets Grace Place’s new “friend” at Grace Episcopal Church Friday afternoon. (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Grace Place, which provides an activity ministry for persons with mild to moderate dementia, as well as a respite ministry to caregivers, on Friday took a unique high-tech step into a new form of patient treatment when it received an interactive robotic dog from Joy for All, a manufacturer of robotic dogs, cats and kittens designed to mimic certain common behaviors while actively engaging and interacting with humans. The “pet” will be made available to a Grace Place participant and caregiver.

The simulated Golden Retriever pup does not walk, but is capable of panting, whining, barking, wagging its tail, opening its mouth, blinking its eyes and turning its head to “look at” a person speaking nearby. It even has a “heartbeat.” It also has motion and contact sensors which enable it to respond to movement and touch; in essence, it likes being around folks and getting petted!

Grace Place received the cyber-pup as a gift from the North Alabama Regional Council of Governments (NARCOG) through a grant from the Alabama Cares program which supports caregivers to seniors.

NARCOG’s Dana Dobson told The Tribune, “We got 10 (pets), and since I work closely with (Grace Episcopal Church Deacon) Mr. (Jerry) Jacob to send participants here, I thought it would be a great thing for them to have, once the day care (which is currently on hold due to COVID-19 restrictions) opened back up.”

A response to loneliness

A statement from NARCOG reads:

A 2018 study by a large health insurer reported that nearly half of Americans felt alone, isolated or left out at least some of the time. This was before the coronavirus pandemic. Research has shown that loneliness and social isolation can result in negative health effects. 

“NARCOG works every day to improve the lives of older adults across our region,” said Tennille Harkins, Area Agency on Aging director.

The agency is part of a pilot program through the Alabama Department of Senior Services using Joy for All robotic companion pets supplied through a grant from the Administration for Community Living. The robotic dogs and cats have built-in sensors which allow the companion pets to respond to presence, touch, and react to their environment. Through this two-way companionship between the pet and its owner, they bring comfort, joy and fun to isolated older adults. 

The robotic pets will be offered to individuals 60 and older, living alone with no pets of their own. Some of the pets have been designated for use by individuals diagnosed with dementia. Those interested in the program will be screened for participation and will undergo loneliness evaluations over a one-year period. The loneliness screening tool will help assess the effectiveness of the robotic pets in Alabama.

“We are hopeful our results will mirror the successful results seen in other states,” Harkins said.

Caring for caregivers

Jacob told The Tribune, “For the caregiver, if they’re at the point where the participant is needing to have constant attention, this is supposed to be a calming distraction for the participant, and even if it’s just for a few minutes, it can make a huge difference for the caregiver. It can become more than that; I think, given the individual’s circumstances, for the participant, that they literally accept it as a pet.”

On the company’s website, Joy for All said of the development of its interactive robotic pets:

Designed with extensive input from older adults, Joy for All launched the Companion Pet Cats in December 2015. Within the first few months, the effects that these products were having on aging loved ones and their families was undeniable. Stories and testimonials from caregivers on the positive impact on isolation, loneliness, and all forms of cognitive decline continued to validate what the team had believed all along – that the power of play was relevant at all stages of life.

Following the initial success of the cat, the Companion Pet Pup was introduced in 2016. As the product line expanded, so did the brand’s coverage from news outlets, journals, popular TV shows and influencers, which drove over 2 billion media impressions in two years. The Joy for All brand grew rapidly within the longevity market and earned many industry awards validating the impact that these products were having on those living independently or in care communities. Bringing the interactive companionship, happiness and purpose associated with owning a pet, without the responsibility, continues to be a key to the brand’s success.

Customer reviews praised the Joy for All pets’ unique ability to engage, delight, enhance meaningful connections, provide companionship, calm, sooth and most importantly promote happiness. These published testimonials caught the attention of academics and clinicians leading to multiple independent research projects intended to measure and quantify the impact of the Joy for All products on loneliness, isolation, Alzheimer’s and all forms of dementia. The early results were encouraging, and it became clear that 100% focus on the older adult population was required to maximize impact and achieve scale in this growing market.

Joy for All says that its companion pets:

  • Deliver innovative programming that increases meaningful interactions between residents, staff, and family members
  • Facilitate intergenerational connection
  • Stimulate conversation and communication in withdrawn residents
  • Calm anxiety and soothe those that are agitated
  • Increase quality of life for those with dementia or who are socially isolated
  • Can improve behavior without the use of drugs

 

For more on Joy for All’s robotic pets, visit https://joyforall.com

Call 256-355-4515, ext. 245 to learn more about qualifying for one of the electronic pets currently available through NARCOG, which provides programs and services to the communities and residents of Cullman, Lawrence and Morgan counties.

For more on Grace Place, visit https://gracecullman.dioala.org/Ministries/grace-place.html or www.facebook.com/305ArnoldStreetNE/

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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com