The Roundup -

Animatronic Pets Are Coming To RMC


August 5, 2020 | View PDF

Photo submitted.

Picture this. A dementia resident in her late 70s wakes in the middle of the night confused. She begins to frantically search in a panic for a loved one. In this situation, it can be difficult to put her mind at ease because she is in the late stages of dementia. The nurse redirects her by placing a 'cat' in her arms and she immediately begins to pet it. Otis looks like a cat. His orange, tabby fur feels soft. He purrs, licks his paws and even rolls over for a good belly scratch. But Otis isn't a cat. He's a robot designed to interact with and bring joy to patients who suffer from varying stages of Alzheimer's, dementia and other cognitive decline.

Roosevelt Medical Center recently received a grant from the Roosevelt County Community Foundation to purchase animatronic cats and a dog to enable RMC to begin developing a pet therapy program.

Roosevelt Medical Center has long considered turning to robotic therapy pets to soothe the agitation, depression, anxiety, and isolation that often accompany dementia and Alzheimer's. With the recent grant funding RMC received, plans are now underway to kick off the program with a goal of providing "pets" to the residents that will be available to them 24/7.

"With the visitation restrictions we currently have to enforce as part of our safety measures to keep the residents and patients in our facility safe, these "pets" couldn't have arrived at a better time," said Amy Petersen, RMC social services director. They are helping to provide comfort, companionship and joy," Petersen added.

So far, a total of three cats have been purchased. The dog they want to order will not be available for a few months.

Pets will be included in weekly reminiscing activities and available to all patients who desire to have a pet with them throughout the day or night.

Whether the "pet" is alive or animatronic makes no difference. Both have been shown to be beneficial with improving mood, providing calming effects, decreasing agitation, improving nutrition, increasing social interaction, and physical activity. They can also create a sense of purpose and motivation.

"For the residents, a pet provides new opportunities to communicate, connect, give and receive affection and be a caregiver themselves, an active and empowering role often lost with these disorders," said Vickie Grimsrud, RMC activity director. "Being around an animal has a soothing effect. Animals are the perfect companion for the individual with disorders that prevent them from identifying or communicating with people," Grimsrud added.

Animatronic pets can greatly reduce a patient's risk for falls too. They provide a reason to remain sitting and help keep the patient's mind and motor-skills busy and focused on the feel of the animal as well as the comfort it brings.

"Implementing pet therapy at RMC will enhance the quality of life for the patients who cannot care for a live animal but who would greatly benefit from the socialization and love they provide," Grimsrud commented.

The $1,000 grant will also help to cover the recent expense of purchasing some of the underwater pictures that were hung down a hallway. The facility is not able to have an aquarium because of the expense required to purchase and maintain it but has discovered a way to bring the soothing effects of fish to patients. A dozen large pictures give the illusion of being surrounded by fish and coral reefs.


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