Several states have been using robotic pets to help older adults combat the effects of social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Florida Department of Elder Affairs distributed Joy for All Companion Pets to 375 socially isolated seniors living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. More than 1,100 New York seniors already received pets through a partnership with the Association on Aging in New York. The robotic pets came from Rhode Island-based Ageless Innovation, a company formed by a group of former Hasbro employees. The company worked in partnership with the state agencies to provide the pets at a discount, to help maximize the number of pets they could distribute.

“This pandemic has impacted the entire aging network and we are working tirelessly to address ongoing concerns, including isolation,” said Greg Olsen, acting director of the New York State Office for the Aging. “We are utilizing innovative ways to combat the public health emergency of social isolation and loneliness.”

The robotic pets look, sound and feel like real pets, according to Ageless Innovation. They can be a great solution for many who love having pets yet are no longer able to manage the day-to-day care of one, said Ted Fischer, co-founder and CEO of Ageless Innovation. 

“This alternative form of pet therapy has been proven to enhance the well-being, sense of purpose and quality of life of individuals with dementia,” Fischer said. “Independent clinical studies show a significant reduction in agitation, social isolation, depression and expressions of sadness among older adults.”

The hope is that these companion robotic pets can also provide some respite for caregivers, said Florida DOEA Secretary Richard Prudom. “Our participation in this innovative program will help many older adults improve their daily mood and give them a greater sense of well-being because of the companionship provided by the interactive pets.”