For toy company Hasbro, play knows no age. They have designed a product geared to provide comfort for adults suffering from dementia and Azheimer's. Meals on Wheels clients here locally are trying them out.
It is social interaction hour at Mike's Place, a respite care program within Meals on Wheels Central Texas for adults with Alzheimer's and dementia.
The center of their attention is a new batch of animatronic companion pets. Ann Anderson named one of the cats sandy.
"She's very well-behaved,” said Anderson.
Ann says she had many animals growing up, "I had a cat, a dog, cows, horses… everything."
But like the others in the room, these days owning a pet is not feasible. She tells us she misses having a constant companion.
"Somebody to talk to that answers back or yells back as the case may be,” Anderson says with a smile.
Hasbro toy company recognized the need. Ted Fischer, vice president of business development, tells us consumers reported buying children’s toys and giving them to seniors in their family. They decided to design something more for adults.
"We really leaned into research with consumers. We went to senior living communities. We went to nursing homes,” said Fischer. "Loneliness and isolation have been issues we have really keyed in on."
A year and a half ago the cat companion pet was released. It purrs, meows and rolls over. A month ago, a dog version came out. The company has donated hundreds of animals to Meals on Wheels across the country.
"They may look silly to someone who doesn't have dementia, but to someone with dementia, they can't recognize that maybe this isn't a real creature. They see it as being a real, live, breathing animal,” said Mike’s Place Program Manager Theresa Zelazny.
Mike's Place Program Manager Theresa Zelazny says clients find interaction with pets--real or animatronic--soothing.
"When they come in they may be disoriented about where they are and their loved one has just dropped them off for the day and they may be confused about what is going to happen. So when we bring out the pets, it helps them calm down and relax,” said Zelazny.
Ann approves, "I think I like her."
To learn more about the animatronic pets click here.