It’s Not Too Late to Get a Pet

In a time when the “same old” no longer works, Senior Options is experimenting everyday with new ways to engage our clients in an effort to slow cognitive decline. This year, Florida Atlantic Adult Day Care piloted a program introducing robotic pets to the elderly population. The company, Joy For All, reported that “stories and testimonials from caregivers on the positive impact on isolation, loneliness, and all forms of cognitive decline continued to validate what the team had believed all along – the power of play was relevant at all stages of life.”

After learning about the product and seeing the positive impact it had, one of my clients immediately came to mind. Elaine’s love of cats can be seen through her various figurines of cats in her curio cabinet, pictures she has collected from her travels and even a picture mounted on the wall from one of her former students. Since COVID she, like many other elderly, had become very isolated. I hoped with all of my heart that this robotic cat would be meaningful to Elaine and help her find some joy.

The day came that I planned to bring Elaine the new cat that her children had named Simba. Upon my arrival, Elaine’s longtime caregiver informed me she was not having a good day. I sat with her for a long time as she spoke about how much she missed having someone to talk to, being almost 93 she has outlived most of her friends and her only companionship was with her caregivers. She is hesitant to call her children as she does not want to “bother them”. Along with many other consequences of Covid and her progressing Alzheimer’s, Elaine’s independence has sharply decreased and is no longer able to take part in hobbies she used to enjoy, like reading. As we were talking, she went on to describe the joy she felt when her late husband came home with a baby kitten when her oldest daughter was 3 years old. It was like God was giving me the signal that it was time to introduce Simba. Now was the time.

I was anxious about Elaine’s response to the cat. However, while she knew it wasn’t real, when I introduced Simba to Elaine, she was immediately taken with it. I was amazed at her reaction and how engaged she was with the cat’s programmed response. Elaine was laughing, talking to the cat and kept saying, “I can’t believe it, I know it’s not real, but it responds to me.” She was talking to it and petting it as if it were real and she was smiling and laughing. For that moment, Elaine’s joy had returned. I sent a video of Elaine with her newfound friend to her kids who were very pleased.

Elaine’s daughter texted me later that evening informing me Elaine was smitten with the cat and during their conversation, the cat meowed, and Elaine said, “did you hear her? She meowed! Isn’t is amazing.”

I could have never imagined introducing a robotic feline to any of my clients, but to see the result for Elaine was all of the proof I needed. Now more than ever, it is critical to introduce new ideas to the elderly. I look forward to the next ideas we bring to our clients with hopes that it brings the joy of the past.

“Helping one person may not change the whole world, but it could change the world for that one person.”              Anonymous