Robo-pets bring life to Manitoba nursing home
Tears after normally-quiet patient living Alzheimer's disease starts talking
For the last year, staff at a rural Manitoba nursing home have been trying to make their 20 residents happier. Sometimes they play music, other times they try giving out coffee or a treat, but nothing has seemed to work — until the addition of some furry robotic pets.
"It's fascinating to see their eyes open up, to see how happy they are when they saw this pet," said Marco Buenafe, a clinical team manager at the Ashern Personal Care Home.
The robotic companion pets resemble real cats and dogs, have fake fur and motion sensors. Two of them came from "Wool N Needles," the town's knitting group. For years, its members have been raising money for different causes.
'Everybody has tears in their eyes'
June Price is a member of the knitting group. She saw the robot pets on TV with seniors and called the rest of her group to see what they thought about buying a couple of them.
She gets emotional talking about the moment the pets were delivered and put in front of the residents for the first time.
"She just kept looking at that cat and then you could see the smile coming on her face and then she started talking about her mother and father and the farm and all of us were standing there, we're standing there crying."
After Wool N Needles' initial donation, a community member and a resident's spouse bought two more robo-pets for the care home.
'My little darling': Resident
Irene Weidner is one of the residents who now spends time with the robo-pets when they come out for an hour on Tuesday mornings.
"It's my little darling," she said, before going on to talk about life on her farm, cows and her love for animals.
"It's nice having her, I enjoy it."
Darlene Hargot has worked at the personal care home for the last 15 years and said the robo-pets from Hasbro are already proving to be therapeutic.
"We tried everything with her … I brought out the dog, and within two minutes of the dog barking and everything, her face just warmed up," Hargot said.
"She was smiling, she was talking to the dog for an hour. We couldn't take [him] away from her."
The future for retirement homes?
Could robots be the future for retirement homes? Toronto scientist Frank Rudzicz certainly thinks so.
Rudzicz said, with a shortage of caregivers and an aging population, expect to see more robots used in health care.
- Patients may get assistance from robot helpers
- Robot caregivers aim to improve seniors' quality of life
"The trick is going to be what kind of interaction are we going to have with them," Rudzicz said.
In an email, Hasbro said it's sold thousands of the companion pets in Canada but couldn't say how many of those have gone to personal care homes because the products are sold through distributors.
'When do they go to the bathroom?'
"They want to feed the animals and we explain that they can't be fed," she said with a laugh. "When do they go to the bathroom? and it's like they don't go to the bathroom, so it's nice to have that sense of humour."
Hargot said the animatronic animals are part of the personal care home family now.
Price said Wool N Needles' donation has proven worthwhile and hopes the robo-pets are still there when she's ready to move into the personal care home in Ashern.
"I can't see moving away, so I hope one of them is in good shape when I get here, dog preferably."