Therapy animals have been used effectively for all kinds of patients, including those with Alzheimer's disease. However, it is not always practical or safe to use real animals with people suffering from dementia. Some care centers are substituting robotic pets.
Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia can give patients a deep sense of loneliness. Patients often cannot remember where they are and who the people are around them. This can lead to feelings of being alone.
One way to combat this is with companionship. However, elder caregivers and elder law advocates all know how difficult it can be to get the necessary companionship on a consistent basis.
Therapy animals have sometimes been used. However, even with specially trained dogs and cats, there is still a safety risk for many patients and the animals themselves.
Of course, real animals have to be cared for and fed as well, which takes up caregiving time.
The New York Times in "Therapy Cats for Dementia Patients, Batteries Included" discusses a new trend to use robotic cats.
Robotics have gotten good enough and cheap enough that some commercially available robotic pets could have benefits for patients with dementia.
The article discusses their use in one nursing home where the residents really enjoy the robots. They give a sense of joy and empowerment, even when the patients realize that the robots are not real animals.
There has been no conclusive research proving any long term benefits of robotic pets for people with Alzheimer's. However, the short term benefits are easy to see for those who work with the patients.
Reference: New York Times (Dec. 15, 2016) "Therapy Cats for Dementia Patients, Batteries Included."