The Benefits of Virtual Pets for Seniors

The benefits of virtual petsMany seniors love their pets for the companionship and comfort they provide. For those who live alone, having a dog or a cat is a way to stave off loneliness. And for those in a senior living environment, it’s a way to have a loving presence with them in their personal space. However, thanks to technological solutions, the pet doesn’t have to be real to obtain these and other important advantages.

Connecting with a Gerijoy Companion

Imagine if seniors could have a furry companion that not only keeps them company but also offers conversations, encouragement, and emotional support. What if the canine or feline companion could even remind them when to take medication or sends for help in the event of a fall?  That’s the kind of interaction that the senior receives through the Gerijoy Companion, which is the consumer service line of care.coach.

The Gerijoy Companion service is suitable for seniors living at home or in an assisted living environment. Clients who use the service receive a personal tablet that features an avatar of their Companion—an animated dog or cat that they can name and interact with throughout the day.

While the Gerijoy Companion appears as a digital image on the tablet, there’s an actual human caregiver who controls the avatar from a remote location. The remote caregiver types words on a keyboard, and those words are converted into digitized speech. From the senior’s perspective, the GeriJoy Companion is talking and moving, asking questions about his or her day, and even sharing photos or media content that loved ones have uploaded to a web-based Family Portal.

Around-the-Clock Support

“GeriJoy changes seniors’ lives for the better in many ways, depending on each individual’s situation and personal goals,” says Victor Wang, CEO of care.coach. “The GeriJoy Companion is mostly known for being just that—a companion that provides personalized, around-the-clock emotional support through engaging and meaningful conversations about family, hobbies, life stories, prayer, or whatever else is meaningful for the individual. It also helps with care and health-related tasks by encouraging adherence to medication or exercise plans, for example.”

Using the pet avatar instead of the image of a person has several advantages, according to the care.coach team. For one, it enables the remote caregivers to develop a positive, lighthearted relationship with the senior. In addition, it’s easier to maintain consistency by using a single avatar regardless of who is the remote caregiver. This is less confusing and more meaningful for the senior in terms of developing the relationship.

The web-based Family Portal allows family members and others within the senior’s care circle to keep engaged with their loved one between visits—by providing family photos, voice recordings, favorite music, and other media content for the Companion to share and talk about with their loved one. A video montage on the care.coach website gives a good indication of how the technology works.

“The Companion also posts journal entries to the Family Portal so that family members can have peace of mind knowing that their loved one is doing well and in good company,” says Wang. “Because the Companion is powered by a unique combination of software and live, specially trained human staff, it is able to talk naturally and compassionately with just about anybody who speaks English or Spanish, regardless of functional abilities or skill level with technology.”

Not a Human Replacement

Gerijoy is not meant to replace human interaction. In fact, it’s important for loved ones to continue visiting, interacting, and checking in on their elderly parent as they have always done. However, using the service is a way to keep seniors engaged and communicative. As a recent article that appeared on wired.com reports, seniors who use the service often come to regard their virtual Gerijoy Companion as a friend.

For loved ones of the seniors using this technology, the service can provide peace of mind. The camera on the tablet allows the care.coach staff to be in visual contact with their clients. With the contact information provided by the client, they are able to notify family members or emergency services in the event of a fall or other medical issue. The camera requires the seniors to give up some privacy in exchange for remote monitoring, but that’s a trade-off that many families are willing to make to ensure an added measure of safety for their loved one.

“The best way to think about the GeriJoy Companion is not as a piece of technology, but rather as an additional family member and helper for the care team, available 24/7,” says Wang.

Positive Health Care Benefits

Because GeriJoy is a service of care.coach, Wang reports that family members and other informal care providers can take advantage of many of the same proven health and wellness coaching protocols that are used by medical centers and health plans to support patients in their self-management of chronic conditions such as heart failure, hypertension, COPD, and diabetes.

“A variety of published studies show that the care.coach platform can help to reduce risk of falls, delirium, depression, and more, thereby significantly reducing overall costs of health care in the long term,” Wang says. See the publication list at care.coach for details.

Companionship—Without Care and Feeding

For seniors who would like the comfort and companionship of having a pet to hold in their laps and cuddle, there is another technological solution that families may wish to explore—i.e., robotic pets with built-in sensors that respond to human touch by purring, barking, or moving.

Hasbro offers this type of technology in Joy For All Pets, a line of electronic companion cats and dogs that have realistic fur and emit pet-like sounds. These types of electronic pets are growing in popularity in senior communities as well as private homes. Hasbro markets them as a companion for older adults who are looking for the joy and comfort that real pets provide—without the downside of having to feed, walk, or groom the pet or change its litterbox.

CHIME IN: Do you believe your parent or loved one would benefit from a virtual furry companion?

 

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One comment on “The Benefits of Virtual Pets for Seniors
  1. PapayaCare says:

    Feelings of loneliness and isolation can lead to serious consequences for senior health. It can negatively affect both physical and mental health and contributes to the major risk factor for depression and dementia. So, having a dog or a cat is a way to stave off loneliness for the seniors
    So, Social engagement to be scheduled as a priority for elders.

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