MIDDLETOWN, NJ – Dr. Steve Swartz, Medical Director at Care One at King James Care Center, has introduced a high technology dimension to pet therapy in nursing homes.
The physician, who has been medical director at the facility for more than ten years, and is also the facility’s Director of the Cardiac Monitoring program, responded to a story he read in the New York Times concerning a new robotic toy by urging the facility to buy mechanical animals, specifically Hasbro Joy for All Cats.
Knowing how beneficial pet therapy is for ill or infirm people of all ages, the Middletown-based physician wanted to take it one step further. In-between when volunteers with certified pets aren’t at Care One for their regular visits, why not see whether mechanical animals might have a positive effect?
The results were instantaneous and remarkable! Residents who have not spoken in a long time smiled, laughed, and cooed and cuddled the very live looking kittens. And the kittens responded with purrs, head and eye movements. If the resident pet him long enough, the kitten rolled over on his back so his belly could be scratched! The kitten movements invigorated the residents, bringing on more hugs, more laughs, and more relaxation. Some residents cuddle the kittens in their arms and their calmness and serenity is instantly visible. Others talk to the animals, urging them to look out the window at the birds at the feeders. Some use the little brushes that come with the kittens to groom them. And the kittens purr and roll their eyes with excitement.
“It isn’t prescription medicine, but it’s obvious it brings the residents joy,” Swartz said, “it’s always our aim to make our residents feel more comfortable, to try and involve them in activities and diversions throughout the day. It helps a resident when you can divert his attention from the day to day nursing care to something he can focus on with calmness and delight. The robotic cats are doing just that!”
The physician, who is also the Director of Hospice at Riverview Medical Center, and a geriatric hospitalist at Riverview, further noted that many dementia patients experience severe changes in personality, become angry, often violent and abusive. “Letting them pet a robot they feel is real, letting them interact with the robot in a way that gives them ownership over something has definitely helped in reducing stress and calming residents,” he said.
The robots also serve a need for residents who do not receive many visitors, or who do not respond to the number of recreational activities offered every day, Swartz continued, “it gives them something they can love as their own, and that they feel loves them in return.”
Hasbro Toys makes mechanical kittens and puppies, as well as a miniature pony. Care One has purchased several of the kittens and is aiming to purchase some puppies as well. Residents are invited to play with the kittens on the table in the community rooms, or simply hold and cuddle them in their chairs. The nursing home has established a protocol to ensure the animals are kept clean and offer no danger of any interchange of germs or bacteria. Each kitten is cleaned and inspected daily and stored safely every evening.
There are definite obvious therapeutic benefits from the interaction between resident and mechanical cat, Swartz asserts readily. But more importantly, he is also monitoring each resident’s medical conditions and their response to the pets. “Who knows? "he said, “there is always the possibility after careful monitoring we can reduce a resident’s medications because of their response to the interplay.”
For now, however, he points out that his immediate goals have been met, seeing the residents hugging and petting the kittens, hearing their laughs and chuckles when the kittens purr in response, seeing their hand and finger movements improve as they pet the kittens or scratch behind their ears. “The residents, in spite of excellent care and medical attention, are still not in their own homes, they’re still in an institution. Anything we can do that can increase their happiness, that help make a care center feel more like their own homes, to give them a more cheerful, homelike environment improves their quality of life on a daily basis.”
Persons wishing to learn more about the program or donate any Hasbro kittens to the care center can contact Recreation Director Cathy Kane at 732-291-3400.