LAWRENCE — Many people love animals and crave the comfort, companionship and loyalty of their own pet.
An award-winning local program helps individuals with dementia achieve that without having to feed, pick up after them or pay for veterinary care.
AgeSpan’s Robotic Pets Program helps individuals “have the luxury of a pet without all of the responsibility,” explained Crystal Polizzotti, director of AgeSpan’s family caregiver support program.
“Who doesn’t love an animal. They are therapeutic,” Polizzotti said.
The battery-driven robotic pets offered include a golden retriever, a tuxedo cat and a tabby cat. The robotic pets make sounds and respond to petting.
“They improve mood and reduce agitation. It does provide a level of comfort which in turn reduces stress and is helpful for the family dynamic. and the silver lining is you can turn them off if you don’t want to deal with them for the day,” Polizzotti noted.
AgeSpan, formerly known as Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and North Shore, was one of 43 agencies honored recently for innovative programs and initiatives. The agency is located at 280 Merrimack St., suite 400, in Lawrence.
The robotic pets program was recognized at the 2022 USAging Innovations and Achievement Awards. A tradeshow and awards presentation was held on July 11.
“AgeSpan’s Robotic Pets Program was recognized with an Achievement Award in the Social Engagement category. The program provides robotic dogs and cats to people with dementia and their family caregivers to bring comfort, companionship, and fun. The realistic pets have fur to pet and make pet-like sounds, and each pet is embedded with sensors that respond to petting and hugs with familiar pet-like actions. The pets are calming and soothing while actively engaging the care recipient,” according to the awards presentation.
More than 250 robotic pets have been distributed locally since the program began in this area in 2017, said AgeSpan CEO Joan Hatem-Roy.
“We are thrilled to be recognized for our work in combatting social isolation and loneliness for older adults,” Hatem-Roy said.
“Our comfort pets program has been so beneficial to individuals and their caregivers. It creates much needed connections and brings so much joy,” she said, stressing the pets address isolation, provide companionship and comfort, and help keep confusion at bay.
To qualify for the achievement award, AgeSpan showed robotics program was in operation between one to five years and offered a new or improved service to elders.
“We applaud our members for their tireless efforts to creatively develop vital services and supports for older adults, as well as their caregivers and people with disabilities in communities nationwide,” said USAging CEO Sandy Markwood, in a statement.
AgeSpan is a non-profit agency dedicated to helping people in Northeast Massachusetts maintain the highest level of independence, health and safety as they age.
For more information visit AgeSpan.org or call 800-892-0890.
Originally published in the Eagle Tribune on August 11, 2022: Award-winning robotic pets program helps dementia patients | Merrimack Valley | eagletribune.com