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Robotic Pet Therapy Helps Reach Some Menlo Park Alzheimer’s Patients

Robotic pet therapy…it sounds like something from the future, but it’s actually taking place right now to help those with dementia. The cost of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s can be astronomical, particularly in home health care. Add in behavioral problems common to these patients and the cost as well as burden of care both increase on top of that. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the estimated costs of dementia worldwide totaled $604 billion in 2010.

We’ve known for quite some time that pet therapy has been extremely beneficial to the elderly and anyone suffering from a disease like Alzheimer’s. But now, technology has taken things a step further. Robotic pets,¬†offering an alternative to traditional pet therapy, have been proven to have similar positive effects without the negative aspects of traditional pets, says the National Institutes of Health. In fact, treatment with robotic pets was shown to decrease stress and anxiety in the NIH study referenced above, resulting in reduced use of psychoactive medications and pain medications in elderly patients with dementia. We believe robotic pet therapy can help reach many Menlo Park Alzheimer’s patients.

Why Robotic Pets?

The rising cost of Alzheimer’s can be prohibited to many families and healthcare providers. Aside from the disease itself, there are many behavioral changes that are associated with Alzheimer’s. Up to 83% of people with dementia suffer from depression and up to 77% suffer from anxiety, resulting in long-term hospitalization, increased medication use, and lower quality of life for both caregivers and patients. Well, what if there was a way to augment the care given to patients that could help offset those costs and give care providers a break? For many years, animal-assisted therapy has been used in both home settings and some retirement homes. However, many senior healthcare settings still don’t accept animals, despite knowing the positive benefits of this kind of therapy. They cite negative effects of the pets on humans such as allergies, infections, biting, scratching and even fear of animals on the part of the patient.

That’s where robotic pet therapy comes in — viewed as a viable substitute for animal therapy in many circles. This is where respite care becomes more possible and more pronounced. From cats to seals to even parrots, robotic pets can take many forms.

Benefits of Robotic Pets

Cost savings is a big benefit of bringing a robotic pet into the home. Hiring home health care providers is essential in many cases; there’s just no way around that. But what happens when those care providers need to take a break, eat a meal, visit the restroom, take a sick day? What if YOU’RE the main caregiver and you have a family of your own and a job? Who fills in those gaps? Home health providers are important but they can be very expensive, as can your own time. Clocking in at more than $20 an hour, this can drain even the biggest of budgets very quickly.

Alzheimer’s Reading Room featured an article on a robotic pet parrot named Harvey. The author calculated that the parrot provided approximately 3,000 hours of respite care at a cost of less than one cent an hour for his mother suffering from Alzheimer’s at home. That said, a robotic pet is designed to provide adjunct care, not replacement care. Alzheimer’s patients still need supervision and qualified care. However, such pets can fill in those gaps in time when the caregiver simply needs a break. That’s the other main benefit of robotic pets like Harvey.

There are other types out there, too. Robotic seals and cats can be used in nursing facilities and in homes, designed to soothe the agitation and anxiety that can often accompany dementia. Convenience is yet another benefit to robotic pets, as real therapy animals — known to reduce stress and isolation — are great during supervised visits throughout the day, but are simply not available at 2 in the morning when the patient needs comfort. Robotic pets provide comfort at any time of the day or night.

Research shows that Alzheimer’s patients form close bonds with their animatronic friends, such as cats. The NY Times points out that for many patients, this is a chance for them to be a caregiver for a change, engaging in an active, empowered role yet again. And with a disease characterized by passivity, this can be a very strong tool for engagement.

Robotic pets, although designed for the elderly, can be enjoyed by children, teens and younger adults too. Think about all the people who are homebound with a disease or illness and could benefit from pet therapy but who have allergies or weakened immune systems where they can’t be around dirty pets. Or, sometimes, owning a real pet is just too expensive and time-consuming to maintain, between taking them for walks, buying food and getting them to the vet.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

Want to learn more about the benefits of robotic pets and animal therapy in Menlo Park? Contact us today at 888-755-7855 to find out how we can help.