Companion Pets Provide Stimulation and Comfort for Residents

Published: Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Our five senses – sight, touch, hearing, taste and smell – keep us connected to the world around us.

Older adults often experience a decrease in the sharpness of these senses, often leading to feelings of confusion, causing many to become withdrawn and anxious.

Companion pets are now being marketed to seniors as a way of providing sensory stimulation. These stuffed animals can provide comfort without the responsibility that comes with owning a real pet.

One such pet, a companion cat, is now on display at the SilverSmartTM Technology Center. This battery-operated, lifelike cat is equipped with sensors behind the ears, under the chin and on the back so when stroked and petted, the cat meows, gently vibrates and moves slightly to mimic a real cat.

These soothing motions and sounds and the cat’s soft fur can evoke feelings of calmness and improve mood in seniors who may be feeling agitated due to dementia or other health-related stressors.

Sharon Whalen, Lutheran SeniorLife technology associate, has introduced the cat to residents at both Passavant Community and RoseCrest Assisted Living at St. John Community.

“I let the residents know up front that this is not a real cat, to alleviate their fears that it could scratch, bite or jump. Once they have it in their lap, many pet it as if it were real and love to feel the vibrations and hear it purr. It’s very soothing to them,” Whalen said.

In addition to tactile stimulation, Whalen said that interacting with the companion cat often inspires memories of the residents’ own pets and triggers conversations with their caretakers and other residents. These meaningful interactions, in turn, are beneficial for the residents’ social well-being.

“I know that not everyone is a ‘cat person,’” Whalen said. “So not all of the residents are interested in interacting with the cat. But they still become engaged in the activity.”

“Watching how the residents respond to the cat has been so great. To see their smiles and to watch them become actively engaged in something that is bringing them such a simple pleasure is so heartwarming,” Whalen said.

Whalen explained that there are several manufacturers who are producing these companion pets, each with different features and price points.

Residents and their families can interact with the companion cat at the SilverSmartTM Technology Center at Passavant Community.

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