Interactive robotic pets are calming dementia patients

JustoCat was given to residents with dementia in Sweden.
JustoCat was given to residents with dementia in Sweden.

A robotic therapy cat can help improve quality of life for people with dementia, according to a pilot study out of Mälardalen University in Sweden. 

Researchers developed JustoCat®, an interactive robotic cat that breathes, purrs and meows, in an effort to meet the need for alternative forms of care for the growing number of individuals with dementia, says Christine Gustafsson, Ph.D., the study's lead author. 

Evidence has shown several calming benefits to spending time with a pet, but for those with dementia, obstacles include a risk of infection, allergies and injury. In addition, pets come with additional responsibilities for caregivers. 

After learning about the promising outcomes of the robotic seal, PARO, on improving the mood of patients with Alzheimer's disease in Japan, Gustafsson and her team designed a robotic pet to appeal to individuals in Sweden, where cats are a common domestic pet and are therefore more likely to work as a reminiscence therapy tool. The cat's fur is machine washable and removable to ensure it meets institutional hygiene requirements. 

In the study, published in the October issue of the Journal of Gerontological Nursing, caregivers at a dementia care center in Sweden introduced patients to JustoCat and encouraged them to touch, hold and pet the cat over the course of seven weeks. Based on interviews conducted with caregivers and relatives of the patients at the conclusion of the intervention, researchers found several positive effects of the robotic cat, including providing patients with increased interaction, stimulation, relaxation, comfort and peace.

“A robotic pet can provide [dementia residents] with an opportunity to care for something that reminds them of an animal and experience a positive reaction, such as the robotic cat purring after being stroked, which might contribute to meeting the need for a basic connection to other living species,” she says.