“Can you meow for me?” said Margaret Sisemore, resident at The Lantern at Morning Pointe of Hixson, her eyes, glowing with endearment and joy, as she looks down at a furry feline friend in her arms. The silver-haired cat with white paws, responded as any pet would, sounding off the gentlest meow as she stretches her body. “Oh, meow meow, yourself!” Ms. Sisemore said.
“Precious”, the newest addition to the Morning Pointe of Hixson family, behaves just like any household cat. Her purrs are soothing, and her plush, furry body is comforting to the touch. But this particular pet is different from the usual four-legged companion – not because of her breed, but because she’s a robot.
“Precious,” a Joy For All Companion Cat by Hasbro, responds to touch with lifelike motions, bringing much delight to the memory care residents who enjoy petting and holding her. With soft, synthetic fur, those with cat allergies can get close to “Precious.” She even rolls over for a belly rub. And the Lantern residents – all in various stages of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia – enjoy interacting and talking with her as if she’s real.
“It makes me feel like I’m holding a real cat,” said Ms. Sisemore, who grew up in a household where she wasn’t allowed to have pets. “Mom said there would be fur all over the house.” She has formed a special bond with the realistic cat, as it has helped her cope with the recent passing of her husband, Carl.
“I wonder how many sensors are in this cat?” said Virgil Powell, The Lantern at Morning Pointe resident, who was once an engineer. According to Linda Noll, Lantern program director, Mr. Powell’s curiosity with the cat helps him take his mind off of his obsession with clocks. “It’s like his interaction with Precious freezes time for him,” Ms. Noll said.
The adoption of these robotic therapy animals in the Alzheimer’s memory care environment has made news headlines. According to a recent article published by The New York Times, the animatronic pets have been around for years, and have soared in popularity in senior communities across the nation. With no vet visits needed, “Precious” requires much less maintenance than traditional pets, but a lot of benefits – especially for people with memory related conditions.
The Lantern has only had “Precious” for a little over a month, and yet the cat’s popularity has grown quickly, spreading to other Morning Pointe communities as the newest addition to the Pet Therapy program.
As a daily routine, Noll brings “Precious” to The Lantern residents after lunchtime. She says the animatronic cat offers “just enough stimulation,” while fostering camaraderie between the seniors.
“It’s amazing the transformation it makes with them,” Noll says. “It’s calming. It gives them something to do with their hands. It gives them something to love. It’s ‘precious’.”