HOLTVILLE — The euphonic sound of small barks and soft purrs emanating from the lobby of a Sonrisa Villa assisted living center for the elderly came from the most curious cast of cats and dogs as the elderly played with their robotic pets.
The 10 seniors from Sonrisa were among a total of 30 seniors who received the robotic pets from Long-Term Care Ombudsman Coordinator for Imperial County Karla Flores through a grant to the regional agency Department on Aging (AAA) by the California Department of Aging (CDA), said Madeline Dessert, chief financial officer for the AAA department.
Dessert said CDA’s Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman (OSLTCO) launched the Electronic Pet Ombudsman Project in response to the negative impact that COVID-19 has had on residents living in long-term care facilities.
“As noted in a recent AARP report, feelings of loneliness, abandonment, hopelessness and fear among residents – and their impact on physical and neurological health – are increasing the death toll from the pandemic,” Dessert said. “People living in licensed care facilities have lost residents and staff to the virus.”
“They have endured long periods of quarantine at the facilities, limited opportunities to engage with other residents, a lack of meaningful engagement through organized activities, and most notably the stress of the unprecedented separation. family and friends who didn’t have indoor visits with loved ones,” she said.
Dessert said Project ECPPO is a “person-centered approach to increasing engagement and improving meaningful interactions during and after” the pandemic.
Flores said the one-time grant is available to all California ombudsman offices. She said hearing about it made her jump at the chance, as it allowed her to “re-establish relationships with facilities and residents” after COVID-related restrictions eased while “fighting isolation and loneliness” for the elderly.
She said the pets were given to elderly people with Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions. She said the “electronic pets” were designed to “enhance meaningful interactions” between elderly residents of long-term care facilities.
“Pets are designed to provide comfort, companionship and reduce stress while helping the individual relax and feel calm,” Flores said. “At the same time, these pets can be fun for seniors because they will prevent loneliness, reduce depression, and improve socialization and communication skills.”
Flores said the project aims to give the pets to low-income seniors in skilled nursing and residential care facilities, especially for seniors who don’t have visiting family.
She said select facilities in Brawley, Holtville and El Centro participated, agreeing to accept and distribute robot-pet gifts of 14 cats and 15 dogs to their residents at six senior care facilities.
Flores said the AAA keeps a pet that county staff can use to relax or for customers who are experiencing anxiety in the moment.
Flores said the battery-powered pets have sensors that “respond to movement and touch,” including blinking, head and mouth movement, and produce barks, purrs, and meows.” realistic”. They have an on/mute/off button so users can adjust the level of response, she said.
She said the cost of each animal ranged from $125 to $140 each, with a discount from the seller through the ombudsman’s office. Dessert said seniors will not have to return pets at any time.
“It’s like a nice distraction for them, (especially for some) who have been through a lot of hard things in life,” Sonrisa Care coordinator Gabriela Zamora said in Spanish.
“(When using these pets) they don’t remember that they have certain illnesses or (physical limitations),” Zamora said. “They are very happy with their pets and they are like that all day. It completely changed their perspective (and) gave them more life and joy. You can see the happiness on their faces.
Zamora said it helped change some residents’ attitudes for the better, making some of them more “sweet, loving and loving.”
“They have (the pets) with them most of the day,” she said. “They talk to them, laugh with them, groom them, chirp them, sometimes they even try to feed them, but we tell them, ‘They’re not eating. They’re on a diet. Normally, even when they go to bed, they embrace in their arms.
“It’s a big help; it’s like a family member to them,” Zamora said. “They put them on their walker with them, and it’s like they can’t let them go.”
“It’s also a great conversation starter,” Sonrisa administrator Itzel Guevara said. “It’s really adorable how they really show the little animals a lot of love.”
Sonrisa resident Glenn Bersamina says his new pet robot dog – aptly named Buddy – helps him calm down when he feels anxious.
“He’s a purebred golden retriever, (and) he’s a good companion,” he said. “I don’t have to feed him and he doesn’t have to go to the toilet; he just keeps me. He’s my bodyguard and a good friend.
“We’re in the same room and we bring them together and we laugh so hard,” Margaret Fifield said of her roommate Julie Ramsey and their respective robotic dogs, Bridget and Booboo.
“We start laughing and we can’t even talk to them because we’re laughing so hard,” Fifield said. “They don’t stop sometimes.”
“(To pet him) makes me think he’s real,” Bersamina said, petting her robot dog Buddy, who responded with a bark and a wink. “See? He responds,” he said. “I love it.”
Ten of Sonrisa’s 90 residents received robotic pets through the Electronic Companion Pets Project-Ombudsman, with Sonrisa being the facility that received the most pets for this first round of donations.
Although the grant is a one-time state stipend, Flores said she will seek local funding through the County Board of Supervisors and through other means of giving, such as “sponsoring a senior citizen” to receive a pet for their well-being, so that more elderly people can also enjoy robot pets.
“It’s entertainment for us old folks,” chuckled Yolanda Ruelas, owner of the robot dog from day one.
“I’m very happy to have this little dog,” she said. “It lifts our spirits”
To find out how to donate to the Electronic Pets for Seniors Project, email Karla Flores, Imperial County Long Term Care Ombudsman Coordinator, at [email protected] .us or call the Regional Agency on Aging at 442-265-7033.