In 2019, New York State became the first state in the nation to test robotic pets, cats and dogs, with isolated community-based older adults. “New York piloted 60 Joy for All Companion Pets (30 cats and 30 pups) with socially isolated older adults living at home in 12 counties across the state. Pilot participants were identified using a six-item loneliness scale. Robotic cats and pups are usually given to people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias as a form of calming pet therapy, but data has shown that using pets to decrease social isolation is highly successful—70% of pilot participants reported a decrease or significant decrease in isolation after one year.”

“Social isolation was already a serious public health problem for older individuals who have limited social connections, and the COVID-19 virus has made this problem exponentially worse,” said Association on Aging in New York Executive Director Becky Preve. “Social isolation also puts older adults at greater risk for a number of physiological issues such as decline in mobility, heart disease including heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure, cognitive decline, infectious illness, and chronic illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes.” Studies have shown that social isolation disproportionately affects older adults. There are many individuals living alone whose only social contact occurs outside of their home. These interactions may take place at senior centers, Churches and other community programs, most of which have closed or have limitations on the number of people who may attend due to COVID-19. There are also seniors whose only in person contact may consist of the brief interaction with the meals on wheels volunteer.

“While social distancing and Matilda’s Law were put in place to slow the physical effects of COVID-19, they also have the unintended effect of heightening the risk of social isolation and loneliness even more, ultimately leaving older adults and caregivers looking for solutions to provide comfort, companionship, and joy in this time of physical absence.”

The Office for the Aging currently has a limited number of these robotic pets available. The pets look and feel real and respond to touch and voice. However, one is able to mute the sounds, i.e. purring, barking, if they prefer. They offer the convenience of not needing to be fed, walked or bathed. Please call the office at 518-828-4258 for more information or if you are interested in obtaining a pet.