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Robotic pets ease stress in patients with various forms of dementia

How a robotic pet is helping 1 South Florida woman with Alzheimer’s
How a robotic pet is helping 1 South Florida woman with Alzheimer’s

POMPANO BEACH, Fla. – Robotics are improving our lives in many ways, from doctor-controlled devices in operating rooms to consumer-based gadgets that make daily chores easier.

Now, robotic “pets” are benefiting people suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, including Pompano Beach resident Jim Parris, whose wife Lynn was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2010.

“The area of the brain that controls memory is pretty much gone and it won’t be coming back,” Parris said.

The couple has been together for 62 years, but now she hardly knows the man she married.

“Sometimes she’ll know I’m Jim but not recognize that I’m her husband.  She knows her husband’s name is Jim but sometimes we’re two different people,” he said.

As the disease progressed over the years, Lynn easily became agitated, prone to fits of anger until the day a robotic cat came into her life.

“She sometimes calls it Angel, sometimes Baby. She’s not given it an official name,” Parris said.

As the mechanical cat purrs, wags its tail, moves its head and rolls over for tummy rubs, Lynn laughs, smiles and even sings.

The Robotic Pet Program is part of a coordinated effort involved with the Memory Disorder Center at Broward Health North.

“Actually, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Department of Elder Affairs worked with ‘Ageless Innovations’ to help donate some of these pets to seniors and improve their quality of life,” said Milena Oblinger, a registered nurse and dementia certified practitioner.

Although the “pets” aren’t real, Oblinger said patients either don’t notice, or simply don’t care.

“Because it’s offering a benefit to them. It’s giving them comfort, it’s giving them a sense of attachment to something without that anxiety,” she said.

Parris said the difference in his wife’s demeanor has been amazing.

“To see her smiling again rather than frowning, it means so much. It’s God’s answer to prayers,” he said.

The Memory Disorder Center at Broward Health North also offers virtual support groups and web-based training workshops to help caregivers during these difficult times.

About the Authors:

Veteran journalist Kathleen Corso is the special projects producer for Local 10 News.

Kristi Krueger has built a solid reputation as an award-winning medical reporter and effervescent anchor. She joined Local 10 in August 1993. After many years co-anchoring the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m., Kristi now co-anchors the noon newscasts, giving her more time in the evening with her family.