The New York Times discussed a new trend in providing companionship for patients unable to care for real animals in "Therapy Cats for Dementia Patients, Batteries Included."
One way to combat the problem of providing therapy animals to lonely patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, may be available through robotics. They have become good enough and cheap enough that some commercially available robotic pets could have benefits for patients with dementia.
Therapy animals have sometimes been used, but even with specially trained dogs and cats, there is still a safety risk for many patients and the animals themselves. In addition, real animals have to be cared for and fed, which takes up caregiving time.
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.
Reference: New York Times (Dec. 15, 2016) "Therapy Cats for Dementia Patients, Batteries Included."