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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Those living in nursing homes have experienced more loneliness since the pandemic began.

“With social distancing comes social isolation and we know that social isolation can be especially harmful to seniors,” said Jean Brown, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Senior Services (ADSS). “Social isolation can cause physical problems and mental decline.”

Because residents’ families haven’t been able to visit out of precaution, the Alabama Department of Senior Services has invested in robotic furry family members for many of them.

Brown said their New York counterparts experimented with these and the results were impressive.

“What they found from the loneliness scale test is that those who got the robotic pet had reduced feelings of isolation, sadness and loneliness by 70%,” Brown said.

As part of their pilot program, they received a federal grant to buy the computerized companions from Joy for All, costing them less than one hundred dollars each.

They’re getting serious bark for their buck because within each robotic pet are sensors that allow it to respond to presence and touch. 

Brown says she’s seen promising results so far.

“I’ve had two reports of elderly persons who really had stopped talking. In two instances that I know of, when the person was given a robotic pet, one of them started talking a lot and telling everyone about her robotic pet. The other one after the pet had been in her lap for 30 minutes, she said pretty. And that was the first time anyone had heard her speak in a long time.”

In fact, Brown pointed out animatronic pets are likely safer for the elderly than live ones.

“We all know that when you have a live pet, whether it be a dog or a cat, dogs can bite, cats can bite, they can both scratch, you can trip over them,” she said. “The only way you’ll trip over one of these robotic pets is if you actually put the pet on the floor.”

All 13 of ADSS Area Agencies on Aging are participating.

“I’m optimistic these will be a success in Alabama,” Brown said.

To purchase your own, you can visit the Joy for All website here.