Robotic Animals Provide Companionship for Hospice Patients
Submitted by Lisa Baggett, Community Engagement Coordinator
Ms. Helen has always loved animals and as an adult, she always had a wide variety of pets. Most were traditional indoor pets like dogs and cats. Others were wild animals she fed such as raccoons, foxes, and deer. She even had a pet otter and a pet skunk!
Even with this variety of pets, Ms. Helen always favored cats. Before moving to a local assisted living facility, she had at least ten cats living in her home. Most of these cats came from two strays, Muffin and Cricket. The kittens were born inside and stayed inside for their safety. “I would always hear the cats in the background when I called her,” says Sheila, Ms. Helen’s daughter.
Her favorite cat was Panther. He was solid black and very lovable. Her daughter, Sheila, agreed to take care of him when her mom had to move into the facility. “I promised to bring him into my home and he has adapted well with my other cats,” says Sheila. “He likes to sit close to me and sometimes will get in bed with me.” But even though Sheila assured her mom that Panther had adjusted to his new home, Ms. Helen still missed having a furry companion.
Recently, Ms. Helen was given a robotic cat as part of her care with BBH. These animated pets look, sound, and feel like real cats and are programmed to respond to petting and other motions like hugging and cuddling. They provide companionship without the responsibility of feeding, litterboxes, and vet bills.
“The joy from getting a robotic cat has had a profound impact on the lives of many of my hospice patients,” says Jessica Bermingham, RN for BBH. Studies show these robotic pets provide companionship and comfort. They offer therapeutic relaxation through touching and stroking the pets. Often non-verbal patients have been seen having conversations with their pets. “Most recently, I walked into a patient’s room to find her asleep in a tight embrace of her cat,” says Bermingham. “The scene moved me to tears as I know the joy and reassurance this pet brought to her.”
One BBH patient was very anxious with elevated blood pressure. After placing her robotic dog in her arms and playing a custom-designed music therapy CD, the calming environment brought her systolic blood pressure down significantly.
Robotic pets are a wonderful intervention and BBH is so grateful to be able to provide them to our patients thanks to a Leon Cares grant received by the Big Bend Hospice Foundation.
Sheila wasn’t present when her mom received the robotic cat but she did receive a call from the hospice nurse sharing how much the cat surprised and delighted her mom. “They sent me a picture of my mom holding the cat. It was beautiful.”
“My Mom’s cat is her constant companion and I believe it brings her much comfort,” says Sheila. “Thank you, Jessica, and BBH for all you do for her.”