Our New Four-Legged Friends

Category: Community Life

Lifespace communities have no shortage of animal lovers and we support these special relationships by making residential living areas pet friendly at all communities. And while the companionship that comes from owning a pet has demonstrably helped seniors, and especially those with dementia or other health issues, many communities understandably have restrictions on pets in their health centers. Yet Lifespace has found a way to provide older adults with the joy and health perks a pet can provide without needing a bowl for food and water. Instead, just batteries.

The solution lies under the fur of some very friendly dogs and cats who have taken up residence at six Lifespace communities. Robotic therapy pets, as they’re called, look, behave and feel like real animals. They bark or meow, have a heartbeat and even respond to voice and touch, but can also be turned off when necessary.

Ann Walsh, Lifespace senior vice president of operations, says the robotic pets made sense as an investment in residents’ well-being. The Lifespace Foundation worked with the resident-led Foundation Advisory Committees to purchase the pets for residents of the health centers.

“I received a robotic cat as a demo from Hasbro and was naturally curious,” Walsh said. “It quickly became evident that these little robopets had the potential to bring true joy to our residents.”

The health benefits of owning a pet are well documented by scientists. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pets can increase opportunities for socialization, as well as decrease blood pressure and feelings of loneliness. In recent years, researchers have begun to find that robotic pets can offer benefits to older adults similar to those of a living animal.

“This research is of particular interest to those of us in the field of senior living,” said Sloan Bentley, president and CEO of Lifespace. “An investment with proven, documented benefits to our residents is a worthwhile endeavor.”

Jim Standish, Health Care Administrator at Beacon Hill, says he’s seen firsthand the incredible impact the robotic pets can have.

“We gave one of the robotic dogs to a woman here in the health center who has dementia and really never spoke much,” Standish said. “The robodog changed everything. She named it after a pet she’d had earlier in life and began talking and expressing herself. It was like a small miracle.”

It’s hard to overstate the happiness these robotic dogs and cats are bringing to Lifespace residents.

“The impact these pets are having is truly remarkable,” said Walsh. “As crazy as it might sound, these little robodogs and robocats are changing lives.”

(In the photo: Emma Cantu, resident at Lifespace community, and her new best friend.)