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Robotic pets help seniors feel less lonely during isolation

Self-isolation during COVID-19 is creating a lot of feelings of loneliness in the community, especially for senior citizens. Having a furry friend around can help, but not everyone can handle a traditional pet. The solution? Robotic dogs and cats.

“Fluffy” barks, pants, yawns, whines, growls and wags his tail. Most importantly, he keeps Dolores Fell laughing as she self isolates.

“Unfortunately, as older people, we just take the brunt of it as far as being cautious and, you know, it’s –” Fell described before being interrupted by Fluffy’s barking.

Fell needs Fluffy’s skills now more than ever.

“The over 1,400 people we serve who come to us to combat isolation and loneliness are now forced to stay at home,” said Dr. Jaclynn Faffer, president and CEO of Naples Senior Center.

To help, the center is connecting people like Fell with alternative pets like Fluffy the robotic dog.

Faffer said the electronic animals can make a big difference.

“Particularly among seniors, having something to care for, something to interact with, is very positive,” she said.

“It does sometimes combat the feelings of isolation and loneliness.”

That’s backed up by science.

Dr. Lisa Wiese with Florida Atlantic University studies the impacts that electronic pets can have on seniors with dementia.

“All of our participants’ moods significantly improved, their depression scores decreased, their agitation decreased, and we even have 50 percent of them increase in their cognitive assessment scores – which is really something.”

She said even though the animals aren’t real, the results are – and they can be immediate.

“It’s really been remarkable to see how people who don’t normally really talk or engage – they light up when they interact with their cat,” Wiese said.

For Fell, Fluffy’s one more way to connect with friends and family she can’t wait to see again.

“It’s a conversation piece, because all of my children now, they’re all out of state, and they all have their own dogs. So now their dogs – I send them pictures. Their dogs have a relative now.”

LINKS

To request an electronic pet
Contact the Naples Senior Center: https://www.naplesseniorcenter.org/

Apply for one through the Florida Department of Elder Affairs:
http://elderaffairs.state.fl.us/

To donate so others may receive free electronic cats
Email Melissa Stires, with Florida Atlantic University: [email protected]

To buy one on your own
JOY FOR ALL Companion Pets: https://joyforall.com/

Reporter:Veronica Marshall
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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