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Companion pets available for dementia sufferers

They move, make noise and respond to your touch, but these animatronic animals are not your typical toy. The 20 dogs and cats currently sitting in the Crook County Senior Service (CCSS) office are designed to be companions for people suffering from dementia – and research suggests they can have a significant impact on quality of life.

“There’s a lot of meowing in our office,” laughs Jenna Ellsbury, Director of CCSS, who obtained the “Joy for All” Companion Pets through a grant from the Department of Aging and is hoping to disperse them throughout the county to those who may benefit from their presence.

“It helps with anxiety, it cheers them up so it helps with depression and it gives them a little purpose,” she says. “I would like to get these into the homes so that they can be used on a regular basis. We’re going to disperse them throughout the county and I need help to know if there’s anybody else out there who might benefit from one who isn’t necessarily one of our clients.”

Companion Pets were launched by Hasbro in 2015 as a product for older adults, designed with the goal of inspiring fun, play and companionship. Since then, according to a white paper prepared by the Aging and Health Technology Watch, a number research projects have been conducted on their effectiveness in improving quality of life and care for dementia sufferers.

These studies have found that Companion Pets offer a number of benefits, including reduced anxiety and agitation. Companion Pets are also believed to improve mood and well-being and decrease depression.

Additionally, the pets appear to be able to improve a dementia sufferer’s cognition, reduce delirium in hospitalized patients and reduce the burden of care by providing additional interaction for the patient. By providing company, Companion Pets are being used to address loneliness and social isolation, offering dementia patients the comfort and companionship of a pet without the necessary maintenance needed for a real animal.

“A lot of our people might have had pets in the past but aren’t able to right now,” Ellsbury nods.

So far, the pets have proved popular with clients of CCSS.

“My housekeeper brings them out to certain houses because there’s anxiety when there is someone new in your house cleaning and it’s stressful for some people and so, when she brings one, they just love it,” she says. “They light up, they think it’s a real pet.”

A pet is also kept in the transportation vehicle for the benefit of people with dementia as they are being taken to medical appointments. “They get so excited when you put one in their lap,” she says.

Ellsbury plans to contact assisted living and the long-term care unit to offer the services of the critters. She has seen the pets “work miracles” with a family member of her own, she says, and strongly believes they have the potential to improve the lives of people with dementia.

Both cats and dogs are available to suit the particular tastes of the person.

“They are super interactive. The cat, if you don’t pet it for a while, rolls on its back like a regular cat and wants you to scratch its belly. It’s not like a children’s toy where it just opens its eyes and says meow, it’s completely interactive,” she says.

The toys look at you if you talk to them, purr or woof when being pet, move their limbs and more. If the person dozes off or stops interacting, the pet will make noise to attract their attention.

Providing interaction stimulates the brain, which is believed to help stave off the effects of dementia for a longer period of time. For this reason, Ellsbury says the pets can be kept for as long as the person wants or needs them.

“I want them to go out into the homes to stay in the homes,” she says. “They can take one for as long as they want.”

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