AAA 1-B Bringing Joy to Nursing Home Residents with Robotic Pets

Pets, Amazon Echoes and Other Technology Helps Reduce Social Isolation During Covid

Research shows that pets can reduce stress and anxiety and increase feelings of well-being. In fact, pet ownership has been on the rise during the pandemic, with many people adding a new cat or dog to their household to help ease the long months of Covid solitude.

The Area Agency on Aging 1-B (AAA 1-B) is trying to bring that same dose of cuddly comfort to nursing home residents, many who have been hit especially hard by isolation during the pandemic. With a grant from Michigan’s Aging and Adult Services Agency, we are providing our frailest seniors with robotic companion cats and dogs. The pets are interactive (purring, barking, blinking, wagging or turning their heads in response to their “owners”), and—like their biological counterparts—they can make people feel more connected. They can be especially comforting for people who have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

Watch the Fox 2 Detroit Story on the Area Agency on Aging 1-B Robotic Pet distribution to nursing homes.

The grant is also funding other devices aimed at reducing isolation, including Amazon Echo Shows, which make it easy for nursing home residents to have video visits with their families Simple Music Players that play music that resonates with those who have memory loss, Super Ear listening devices and comfort baby dolls.

The agency has distributed devices to 29 nursing homes in the six-county region we serve (Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St. Clair and Washtenaw counties).

Mary Katsarelas is one of three AAA 1-B Long-term Care Ombudsman who advocate for residents of long-term care facilities in our service area. They are part of a statewide LTC Ombudsman Program and have been instrumental in getting the program off the ground. These Ombudsman are often a voice for people in the nursing homes, and Katsarelas says that isolation has been a concern for both residents and their families during the pandemic.

“Isolation is an ongoing concern in nursing homes,” she says. “These items are going to keep making an impact in the lives of these residents for a long time.”

Katsarelas says the devices were chosen for their unique abilities to engage and encourage interaction. She points out that people with dementia can often have trouble with phone conversations and the Echo Show will let them see their family’s faces and bring a new dimension to that interaction. The dolls and the pets will not only give residents something to nurture but will also serve as conversation starters that will encourage more interaction. Katsarelas emphasizes that these items will continue to be important for residents even as Covid restrictions ease.

You can visit our Long-term Care Ombudsman page for more information about our LTC Ombudsman program and how they advocate for nursing home residents and residents of other licensed long-term care facilities.