Lead Organisation: North Wales Regional Partnership Board
The dementia workstream of the Regional Partnership Board purchased 56 robotic cats and dogs to support people across North Wales who are living with dementia. 54 were shared out equally across the 6 local authorities, providing 9 to each. They were given to the dementia lead for each local authority to be distributed, this was to ensure that they reached places where they would be utilised and be of most benefit to people. The furry friends have found homes in various locations including care homes, day centres and a person’s home.
The robotic pets look and sound like the real thing, they have built in sensors that respond to motion and touch, realistic, soft fur that looks and feels realistic. These pets respond to petting, hugging and motion much like real ones but without requiring care and expense. The robotic cat uses cat-like movements and sounds and sound and feel like real purring. The dog is a robotic puppy that has pup-like movements and sounds and responds to your voice with a bark.
Robotic pets have been shown to benefit those with dementia, with studies demonstrating the therapeutic effects they have, enhancing social connections, providing engaging and meaningful activities, human-animal bond, and the reduction of behavioural and psychological symptoms including agitation and depression. A day centre already had an existing robotic seal which had proven to be beneficial and very popular with their visitors. Those working with people with dementia have both heard and witnessed the benefits technology can have, which has resulted in an increased interest in obtaining new gadgets and technology to support service users. It was with all this in mind that the decision was made to purpose the robotic animals.
The robot cats and dogs have proven to be very popular, and the Regional Partnership Board has received positive feedback from dementia leads, care workers, and families, regarding the new pets. See quotes from staff and families below.
“We have a lady who was diagnosed with Dementia over 10 years ago. She moved into Plas Yr Ywen when we first opened, and her dementia has worsened unfortunately in the last 6 months or so. She doesn’t interact with others as she did but can get quite lonely. She was initially given a Furreal cat and she loved it! She spent lots of time caring for it, stroking it and talking it to it affectionately. Her family even bought her a little bed for it and she would ‘put it to bed’ covering it with a little tea towel to keep it warm. She spent lots of time looking after it but her son had to buy her another one as she fed it Weetabix(!) She absolutely adored the cat but over the months she became less so attached to it so we offered her the Dog – and she was overjoyed! She carries the dog around with her most of the time tucked under her arm and brings him in to the conversation and asks you to pet it – her word finding has reduced significantly but it is clear she is including the dog into the chat, so it is good to have a topic of conversation with her.” Flintshire Plas Yr Ywen Extra Care
“The Companion Pets were very well received when they were introduced during the launch of the Dementia Centre on Ynys Môn. Many attendees were intrigued and found them quite remarkable. One lady in particular spent a considerable amount of time stroking the cat and explained how she used to own a cat in the past. There was certainly a lot of laughter as well, which was very nice to see. People enjoyed a different experience and …. there was certainly a calming influence when the pets were introduced to the group.” Dementia Centre Ynys Môn
Mr S from Ynys Môn received one of the dogs and his wife said “he regularly lies on the bed stroking it and talking to it and it has a calming effect on him. He treats it like a real dog which is wonderful to see.” Wife of Mr S, Ynys Môn
“One lady particularly has taken one of the cats home with her. She recognises that it ‘isn’t a real cat’ but gets company from it being with her. She said “I know he’s not real, but I like having him here to look after, I can talk to him and he keeps me company”” Llys Raddington
“When in Llys Jasmine, there was a lady who had a small dog (real), that passed away, following this she wouldn’t get out of bed, when I introduced the cat to her, it gave her a sense of purpose and she got up in the morning to ensure the cat was looked after and she slept better at night with it purring on her bed. She used to ask the staff to feed it and really thought it was a companion. Her family, and the staff cried when they saw the positive affect this cat had with this lady.” Llys Jasmine
Feedback from a local Wrexham resident who is now recently living in a residential home. She has suffered with her anxiety for many years, and now has an early diagnosis of dementia, but feels the cat has really changed her life and looks forward to joining in with things now. Previously she would isolate herself and had zero confidence.
“The cat really calms me, I feel as though it understands my anxiety and it has really helped me as an individual to grow and to join in with more activities in the care home I live in.” I have been very anxious for many years now, but since having my robotic cat as a companion I feel more at ease, I feel safe and I don’t feel silly for using the cat to help me. This is because I know that I am growing in myself, especially in confidence, and I am not so lonely anymore as will take the cat with me to activities and it gets people talking to me, as it is something different for many people to talk about.” Wrexham
“Nerys has never had any pets, but has become more isolated as her dementia has deteriorated. She would be very closed in, and although she has lost her ability to speak or sing, which she always enjoyed, since having a robotic cat in her room and next to her chair she has started to reach out for the cat and stroke it. When family visit they will move the cat onto her lap, and she will smile and stroke the cat for a good half an hour. It has given the family some hope that she is happy, even though she is not vocalising. It has shown she does enjoy the company of the cat.” The family have commented that they know their mum is spending more time in her chair now as she is hoisted at all times, therefore they feel relief and happiness that the cat is some company for her and feels comfortable. Wrexham
Staff from Conwy spoke about the pets being “inseparable for some individuals and enjoyed by many…. in times when distraction is needed they had been useful and calming for individuals”
In general all feedback was positive one manager did explain that “a couple of their individuals were unsure of the pets movements however others enjoyed watching and petting it.” Conwy
Following consultation with dementia leads from each local authority across North Wales, the dementia workstream are planning on purchasing further technology and gadgets to support those with dementia including dolls, trackers, alarms, and talking clocks.