Keeping things calm Robotic comfort animals bring relief to hospice, dementia patients

From: Silver  LININGS  Issues of Aging in NH, A continuing Union Leader/Sunday News report

Nashua nursing home resident is living proof that mechanical creatures can bring joy and ease anxiety.

New Hampshire Union Leader

Betty Adams, 85, a hospice patient with later-stage dementia, has had a difficult morning, but she brightens and becomes animated when Tinkerbell, a robotic cat, curls up in her lap.

It doesn’t matter that its fur feels fake, or that its repetitive movements are somewhat jerky, prompted by touches to sensors on its head, chin and back. It purrs, meows, blinks its eyes, and licks a raised paw. To her, the mechanical creature is a comforting, engaging, and affectionate companion — and a link to happier times.

“What a nice doggy you are, a good boy, yeah,” says Adams, patting its ears and head. In response, the animatronic pet blinks its blue eyes and gazes at Adams. “He missed me, is right. I missed him, too.”

Twice a month, Beth Carson of Hudson, the robotic cat’s handler, and Anne Olasz, both volunteers at Home Health and Hospice Care in Merrimack, visit Adams at Greenbriar HealthCare, a nursing home on Harris Road in Nashua.

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Silver Linings is a continuing Union Leader/Sunday News report focusing on the issues of New Hampshire’s aging population and seeking out solutions. Union Leader reporter Roberta Baker would like to hear from readers about issues related to aging. She can be reached at rbaker@unionleader.com or (603) 206-1514. See more at www.unionleader.com/aging. This series is funded through a grant from the Endowment for Health.

Betty Adams of Greenbriar HealthCare in Nashua scratches between the ears of Tinkerbell the robotic cat. DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER