Robotic Pets Provide Comfort, Companionship


By:  Jan Engoren Contributing Writer

Apparently, people aren’t the only ones being displaced by automation— pets are now being replaced by robots as well.

Thanks to a $3,000 donation from Boca Raton resident Nancy Schiller, the Alzheimer’s Community Care organization was able to purchase 22 robotic pets for 11 of their facilities located in Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties.

“When I heard about the need, I said, ‘You got it,” said Schiller, the owner of In Good Taste located in the Regency shopping centers in Boca Raton. “I took out my checkbook and wrote them a check.”

A planning committee member of the Alzheimer’s Community Care Seasons of Life luncheon scheduled for Dec. 4, at St. Andrews Country Club, Schiller said she witnessed first-hand the effects these robotic cats and dogs have on an Alzheimer’s patient’s well-being.

“I like to give exactly when I know what my money is going for,” she said. “When I look at these patients’ faces I see the immediate results.”

“What they do here at the Alzheimer’s Community Care Center is amazing,” Schiller said, referring to the program at the Advent Lutheran Church, located at 4680 N. Dixie Highway in Boca Raton.

Her gift allowed the ACC to purchase Joy For All Companion Pets, (“No vet bills, just love”) robotic pets, with built in sensors which allow the stuffed animals to respond to the human touch.

Bonita, the cat and Ace, the dog, both named by the patients, respond to motion and petting.  Bonita will respond to the sound of your voice, meow, purr and roll over on her side, so her tummy can be rubbed.

Both pets have soft, realistic fur.

Ace will bark, shift his head back and forth, open and close his mouth and blink his eyes. The more you pet them the more they interact with you.

Karen Gilbert, a nurse and the vice president of education and quality assurance, for ACC said, “Having access to these pets provides a lot of love and a lot of success.”

“Giving to the pets and getting back is incredibly therapeutic,” she said.

She believes interacting with these battery operated pets can improve mood, reduce anxiety, and allow patients to engage cognitively, emotionally, physically, and socially with the pets and each other.

Daycare patients Aurora B. and Helen N., originally from Texas, were both engaged with the robotic pets.

“I like dogs,” said Helen, who says she used to own one. Unable to articulate further about her interaction with Ace, Helen nevertheless was animated and engaged with the animal.

With more than 5.7 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s, the disease kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined, according to statistics provided by the Alzheimer’s Association and costs the nation approximately $277 billion.

By 2020, the number of Americans living with the disease is projected to increase to 14 million and the costs are projected to increase to $1.1 trillion.

Loretta Litten, also a volunteer committee member for the ACC luncheon, says there is still a stigma attached to people suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia diseases.

“What cancer was many years ago – the “C” word,” she said, “People didn’t talk about it. It’s the same thing with Alzheimer’s disease now.”

“Many families deal with this issue, but may not want to admit a loved one is suffering from this illness,” Litten said. “We hope to raise awareness about the disease and how to live with it.”

For more information on the Boca Raton Specialized Alzheimer’s Adult Day Care Center, call 561-391-6955. Advent Lutheran Church is located at 4680 N. Dixie Hwy.