Robotic pets help keep retirement home residents company

OXFORD, Ohio -- Although interacting with domestic animals is beneficial for all humans' physical and emotional health, it's not always practical to bring a real animal (with accompanying claws and allergenic hair) into an environment such as the Knolls of Oxford retirement community. 

That's why Knolls acquired three pets that don't produce dander, need food or require any cleanup. The only things their dog and two cats need are love, cuddles and an occasional change of batteries.

"I thought they were cute as a button," Janyce Isaacs, a resident, said. She's owned living dogs and cats before -- mostly poodles -- and said she enjoyed the simplicity of interacting with their mechanical simulacra. "When I had the dogs, I had to take them out, feed them … I don't have to do that anymore."

The robotic pets were a gift from the Scripps Gerontology Center, which partners with Knolls to research topics in gerontology -- the study of aging -- and improve the lives of its residents. 

According to research fellow Katy Abbott, innovations such as introducing robotic companions are part of Knolls and the Gerontology Center's commitment to preference-based living, which works to give residents a more active part in shaping their own care and lifestyle. 

That includes gathering information about small but important details such as when they prefer to bathe, how much decorating they would like to do in their rooms and what their favorite foods are for every meal. 

It can also mean introducing innovative tech such as the robotic pets.

"What we're trying to do is figure out, ‘What are some novel ways of meeting people's preferences using new technology?'" Abbott said.

Facilitating greater understanding within a retirement community creates greater satisfaction for both residents and caregivers, she added.

"This is what's so nice," resident Myrna Stohmier said. "You feel like somebody is with you."

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