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University robotic cat research aims to improve well-being of people living with dementia

13 June 2017

Robotic cat research aims to improve wellbeing of people living with dementia

Robotic cats are being used to improve the wellbeing of people living with dementia.

Researchers at Wrexham Glyndwr University have joined forces with a US toy giant to conduct research into how robotic companion pets can have a positive impact on people suffering with the condition.

Dr Joanne Pike, a senior lecturer in Nursing, and Computing lecturer Professor Rich Picking are planning to give 10 of the ‘robocats’ to people living at home or in sheltered accommodation in the north east Wales region before visiting them over a six-month period.

For people who cannot care for a real pet, the fabricated felines are a viable alternative that can last forever and do not need feeding and cleaning.

They are designed to bring comfort, companionship and fun to elder loved ones. With realistic fur and pet-like sounds – the cats have sensors that mean they respond to petting and hugs with familiar pet-like actions such as purring and rolling over.

Dr Pike witnessed this when her own mum, Gwladys (pictured right) – who sadly passed away last month aged 94, after a battle with Alzheimer’s Disease – was given one of the pets to care for.

“I remember how mum would brighten up and her eyes sparkle when she talked to it,” said Dr Pike.

“She loved cats as we used to have them when she was younger, so she was familiar with them. The robotic companion had an identity, it reminded her of the past and made her smile.

“Towards her later days, even if she didn’t talk to us she would be talking to the cat and stroking it. Mum felt comfort in that, it made her come alive.”

She added: “We know that pets can have a big impact on therapy and a positive effect on the health and wellbeing of an individual.

“These robotic companion pets are not a substitute but they are great company, particularly for someone elderly or living with dementia.”

The robotic cats were built and sold initially as toys, until the company began to explore benefits they could make to the health industry.

Professor Picking said the study of robotic companion pets – which he labelled ‘companotics’ – could have a major say on future development of the product and research into the illness, which is a chronic or persistent disorder of the mental processes caused by brain disease or injury and marked by memory disorders, personality changes and impaired reasoning.

“Ideally we want people living at home with dementia – or their families and carers – to get in touch if they’ve maybe had a cat in the past and can no longer look after one, or would like some company,” he said.

“We will come along and introduce them to their new friend in their own surroundings, then come back after a few weeks, and then months to see how they’ve got on. Whether they’ve formed a bond, whether it’s made a difference.

“Of course they can keep the cat, we would not take it back from them. We would like to see what the level of interaction was, and then see how it can be developed further for research and health purposes.”

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