With the help of a cuddly and furry companion, researchers from Florida Atlantic University’s Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing tested the effectiveness of affordable, interactive robotic pet cats to improve mood, behavior, and cognition in older adults with mild-to-moderate dementia. The non-pharmacological intervention took place over the course of 12 visits in an adult day center. Participants were informed that their pet was a robot and not a live animal. Each of them selected a name for their cat, which was fitted with a collar and a personalized nametag.
For the study, published in the journal Issues in Mental Health Nursing, researchers assessed mood and behavioral symptoms using the Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias Mood Scale, the Observed Emotion Rating Scale, and the Cornell Scale for Depression in Dementia. They also assessed cognition via the Mini Mental State Examination.
Results showed that intervention with a robotic pet cat improved all mood scores over time, with significant improvements in the Observed Emotion Rating Scale and the Cornell Scale of Depression in Dementia. More than half of the participants scored higher on the Mini Mental State Examination post-test than pretest, with slight to moderate improvement in attention/calculation, language, and registration. Post-test scores on the Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias Mood Scale were six points higher than pretest conditions.
Researchers frequently observed study participants smiling and talking to their robotic cats and expressing sentiments. Participants believed that the robotic pet was responding to their statements through meowing, turning their head, or blinking their eyes and that they were having a conversation with the pet. Several of the caregivers reported that their loved one had slept with the cat, held onto the cat when sitting, or consistently played with the cat. One even slept with her robotic pet cat while she was hospitalized.
By using therapeutic pets instead of live pets, there was no concern about the safety or care of the pet.
Streit La Rose, B., et al. Improving Behavioral and Psychological Symptoms and Cognitive Status of Participants With Dementia Through the Use of Therapeutic Interactive Pets. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 2021; 1 DOI: 10.1080/01612840.2021.1979142. Science Daily.