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Robotic Pets Show Benefits For Alzheimer's, Dementia Patients

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Robots are increasingly replicating more and more lifelike human behavior, but can they imitate animals?

As CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez reports, robotic pets are being used to soothe the anxiety that Alzheimer's and dementia patients often experience.

A quick look and you'll think you're looking at a real, live affectionate kitty -- but they're actually amazingly realistic robots. The kitty purrs, blinks, rubs its face and even rolls over -- but that's not the most remarkable part.

The effect the robots can have on patients -- like those at the Hebrew Home in Riverdale -- is astonishing. All of the patients there have varying degrees of Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia.

"It makes me happy," 97-year-old Justina Lacanfora said. "I'm very happy. See, he talks to me. That was a long conversation."

Nancy Traynelis is Justina's daughter. She's not sure whether her mother knows the cat is real or not but she does know that it has a calming effect on her.

"With this I don't see the agitation," she said. "She smiles and wants to talk, so content and happy. Wouldn't have believed it."

Hebrew Home CEO Daniel Reingold says they already had a pet therapy program but live animals need feeding and cleaning and aren't always around when residents need calming. He says the robots also give the residents something else important.

"It even provides the opportunity for the resident to be in the role of the nurturer and caregiver which is a very calming kind of experience for them," he said.

Dementia patients can sometimes become agitated and hard to soothe. The robotic animals can do that without the use of drugs.

"These animals are a wonderful way to use a non-pharmaceutical approach, not using medicine to offer comfort and a sense of calm," Mary Farkas from the Hebrew Home said.

All you'd have to do is watch the residents interact with the faux-pets to see the beneficial effects they have.


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