There are many benefits of owning pets and animal therapy for aging adults, but there are a variety of concerns to take into account when adopting an animal for your aging loved one. If your loved one is not able to care for an animal, they may still benefit from a robotic animal, a special therapy robot that looks and responds like a pet but doesn’t require the same level of care.
Senior Isolation & COVID-19
While isolation among seniors has reached an all-time high since COVID-19 has swept across the United States, the truth is that an average of 40% of seniors experienced feelings of loneliness and isolation before the pandemic. Many factors increase loneliness as we age, including the loss of a partner and friends, living alone, reduced ability to get out of the house or participate in hobbies, and kids who are busy raising their own families and often working full-time jobs.
Loneliness among seniors is a grave issue. It increases risk of mortality, dementia, illness, and other major health conditions. Research demonstrates that pets can reduce loneliness—and therefore the adverse impact of loneliness among older adults.
The Benefits & Challenges of Pet Ownership
Research demonstrates that the benefits of pet ownership among aging adults are many. Seniors who own a pet are more likely to engage in physical activity every day while they feed, walk, bathe, and play with their pets, which in turn supports mobility and longevity, among other benefits. Additionally, pets can help alleviate depression, anxiety, and loneliness—major concerns since the COVID-19 pandemic has hit and isolation among seniors is at an all-time high. Pets can provide a sense of security for older adults who live alone and promote a daily routine.
- Keeping up with the cost of their food and medical care can be challenging for those living on a fixed income
- Finding care for pets while traveling, sick, or even in the hospital can place added burden on the pet owner
- Pets can pose a tripping hazard, increasing the likelihood of falls and injuries
- It can become more and more challenging to care for the pet as the senior's needs change, leaving family members with both their loved one and their loved one's pet to worry about
For these reasons, more and more families are investing in robotic cats and dogs.
The Solution: Robotic Pets
What we know is that older adults are at high risk of loneliness, that loneliness increases their risk of serious health problems, pets can help, and pet ownership isn't always feasible for older adults. The solution? Robotic pets for seniors.
Robotic pets offer the companionship of a pet—and therefore the health benefits of that companionship—without the work and the commitment. While they're especially helpful in alleviating loneliness in populations suffering from dementia, people of all ages and capacities can find friendship in robotic pets. In fact, the benefits are so clear that the Florida Department of Elder Affairs has sponsored the purchase of nearly 400 robotic pets for older adults with Alzheimer's Disease or Dementia in an effort to improve quality of life.
These pets are designed to be as realistic as possible, purring, barking, or bathing themselves, without the trouble of elimination (using the bathroom) or vet bills.
Budgeting for a Robotic Pet
Many older adults and their families shy away from robotic pets under the assumption that they'll be out of budget, but there are many affordable options between $50-$150.
Still out of budget? Consider purchasing a realistic plush toy, sans the robotic component, for similar benefits with a more digestible price tag.
Robotic Pets in Assisted Living Communities
Not only are assisted living communities open to robotic pets and willing to help your loved one leverage the benefits, many assisted living communities have a "neighborhood" robotic pet who is shared between residents. This gives residents access to the benefits of a pet without the investment and brings residents together over a common love.
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