Alabama combats isolated seniors’ loneliness with robotic pets

Updated: Jul. 30, 2020 at 5:52 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The Alabama Department of Senior Services has been working on ways to comfort the state’s elderly who remain isolated in closed off senior centers.

One of those projects is a statewide robotic pet program that pairs isolated seniors with a robotic cat or dog. The programmed pooches and kitties are meant to help them combat loneliness.

“It’s beyond dispute that social isolation is deadly for seniors,” said ADSS Commissioner Jean Brown. “Studies have shown it’s worse than smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and we know beyond a doubt social isolation can lead to not only physical decline but to mental decline.”

Brown said the robotic pets are so life-like that she sometimes has to take a second glance to make sure they’re not real. The eyes blink and the cats even purr and meow.

“When this cat is in my house I have to think twice because it looks so real and when you walk by it will meow,” she explained. “And then when you’re spending time with a robotic pet, it will do things a cat will typically do.”

The commissioner said the department plans to monitor reports of loneliness periodically for the next year and hopes to see positive results like those found in Florida and New York studies.

“I have asked our aging directors to give a loneliness scale test when they first give out the pets, then at three months, six months and 12 months,” Brown said.

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