Robopets improve lives of patients with dementia

This health facility in Vancouver is using robopets – automated animals – to boost the health and happiness of their residents.

Therapy dogs and cats have been visiting nursing homes for decades. The presence of an animal has been shown to boost patient morale, reduce stress levels and alleviate depression – among other benefits. But these animals aren’t always available when patients experience distress. Burdened by this problem, Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) set out to find a solution. Earlier this year, they introduced robopets into their older adult mental health unit at Vancouver General Hospital. These automated animals behave similarly to real cats and dogs, but offer the low-maintenance convenience ideal for patients with dementia.

Robopets are cost-effective, safe to use, and are available to the staff and patients at VCH 24/7. Their faux fur is non-allergenic, making them a great alternative to real animals for patients with allergies to animals. “Robopets help to reduce loneliness, calm anxiety and stress, and provide a focus for social engagement and human to human interaction,” says Dr. Lillian Hung, Clinical Nurse Specialist at VCH. “They also help patients build connection, trust, rapport and relationships.”

These automated cats and dogs are designed to mimic the movements and sounds of real companion animals. They encourage patients to interact with them the way they would a live animal, and are even programmed to respond to that affection. Patients are told that that the robopets are machines, but it doesn’t affect the outcome. “Even though they know the animals are not real, they tend to treat them like real animals,” says Lillian.

Vancouver Coastal Health currently has three cats and one dog as well as a robotic baby seal, PARO that they’re using for research purposes. “In the pilot test, we found patients responded with the animals positively,” says Lillian. The physical aggression of the patients with dementia – typically due to frustration caused by language and function losses – seemed to subside in the robopet’s presence, and these patients’ families were pleased to see them engaging with the clinicians meaningfully. This improved patient-clinician connection allows for better care that will hopefully boost the patients’ safety and quality of care.


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