Ruthin lecturer using robotic cats to help people living with dementia

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Staff Reporter

A university lecturer from Ruthin is using robotic cats to improve the wellbeing of people living with dementia.

Dr Joanne Pike, a senior lecturer in nursing at Wrexham Glyndwr University, is co-leading a project to conduct research into how robotic companion pets can have a positive impact on people suffering with the condition.

Dr Pike worked as a nurse in Ruthin Hospital for seven years in the early 1990s and then as a district nursing Sister in Corwen before joining the university, where she is developing the research with colleague and computing lecturer Professor Rich Picking.

They are planning to give 10 of the ‘robocats’ to people living at home or in sheltered accommodation in the north east Wales region before visiting them over a six-month period.

For people who cannot care for a real pet, the fabricated felines are a viable alternative that can last forever and do not need feeding and cleaning.

They are designed to bring comfort, companionship and fun to elder loved ones. With realistic fur and pet-like sounds – the cats have sensors that mean they respond to petting and hugs with familiar pet-like actions such as purring and rolling over.

Dr Pike witnessed this when her own mum, Gwladys – who sadly passed away earlier this year aged 94, after a battle with Alzheimer’s Disease – was given one of the pets to care for.

“I remember how mum would brighten up and her eyes sparkle when she talked to it,” said Dr Pike.

“She loved cats as we used to have them when she was younger, so she was familiar with them. The robotic companion had an identity, it reminded her of the past and made her smile.

“Towards her later days, even if she didn’t talk to us she would be talking to the cat and stroking it. Mum felt comfort in that, it made her come alive.”

She added: “We know that pets can have a big impact on therapy and a positive effect on the health and wellbeing of an individual.

“These robotic companion pets are not a substitute but they are great company, particularly for someone elderly or living with dementia.”

Professor Picking said the study of robotic companion pets – which he labelled ‘companotics’ – could have a major say on future development of the product and research into the illness, which is a chronic or persistent disorder of the mental processes caused by brain disease or injury and marked by memory disorders, personality changes and impaired reasoning.

“Ideally we want people living at home with dementia – or their families and carers – to get in touch if they’ve maybe had a cat in the past and can no longer look after one, or would like some company,” he said.

“We will come along and introduce them to their new friend in their own surroundings, then come back after a few weeks, and then months to see how they’ve got on. Whether they’ve formed a bond, whether it’s made a difference.

“Of course they can keep the cat, we would not take it back from them. We would like to see what the level of interaction was, and then see how it can be developed further for research and health purposes.”

For more information, email j.pike@glyndwr.ac.uk or r.picking@glyndwr.ac.uk. Alternatively, call 01978 293596.

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it@nwn.co.uk

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