woman holding toy dog

Orange County, CA, assisted living residents are among the latest in senior living to enjoy the companionship of new furry friends and an escape from the isolation of the pandemic, thanks to a program launched by a county agency.

The Council on Aging-Southern California bought 200 robotic cats and dogs to distribute to residents of assisted living communities, focusing on those in memory care units, according to the Orange County Register. The agency used some of the $165,323 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding it received to buy the cats and dogs —  $110 to $120 each from Joy For All, created by a team originally under Hasbro that operates under Aging Innovations.

The robotic pets are motion-sensitive and respond to human touch. Some older adults, especially those with memory issues, believe the pets are real. The Council on Aging’s ombudsman program told the media outlet that it sends volunteers into long-term care facilities throughout the county to track resident/patient care and conditions and found that the robotic pets provide a degree of comfort to isolated residents.

The benefit to the pets is there is no litter box, no need for food and not veterinarian bills. The animals come with cleaning instructions as well, to make them safe under pandemic conditions.

Robotic pets from Rhode Island-based Ageless Innovation, which acquired the Joy For All brand in 2018, also were being used in Florida and New York last year to help senior living residents combat the effects of social isolation during the pandemic. Through a partnership with the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, robotic pets were distributed to 375 residents living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. More than 1,100 pets at the time were distributed in New York state through a partnership with the Association on Aging in New York.

Also last year, Ohio Living Westminster–Thurber in Columbus, OH, and Chapel Hill Community, a United Church Homes life plan community in Canal Fulton, OH, participated in a trial aimed at curbing loneliness and apathy using socially assistive robots.
In 2019, graduate students at the University of Cincinnati conducted pilot studies and focus groups with senior living residents to design a prototype of a redesigned robotic pet to not only provide comfort, but also to detect and prevent falls, connect users to caregivers and loved ones, check vital signs and provide reminders.