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Senior center provides new options to improve quality of life for the elderly

Ellen Abbott
A memory care kit at PACE CNY contains an animatronic dog and cat, life-like baby doll, and other soothing items

Research has prompted some new and unusual memory care at one central New York day center for the elderly. 

It looks like small yellow dog with a bright red collar. It wags its tail and barks like a dog, and that’s enough for it to be a soothing presence to one of the clients at a PACE CNY Day Center in East Syracuse.

This puppy is part of what PACE CNY calls a memory care kit. It includes an animatronic cat as well as the dog, a realistic looking baby, and other soothing items like aromatherapy and the soft pink lights of an LED Cherry Tree.

PACE Therapeutic Recreation Director Orion Roeder said the program is based on research conducted by PACE CNY and Loretto, in conjunction with SUNY Oswego. It showed interaction with an animatronic cat called “JustOCat” had a statistically significant impact on PACE participant's quality of life.

“That was shown to increase people’s instances of smiling, and decrease aggressive behavior,” said Roeder.

PACE will pair up a JustOCat with a client to see whether that person would benefit from animatronic intervention. And if so can be used at the Day Center or during home visits. Roeder said it’s a kind of pet therapy.

"It’s been great for people who have had to give up their pets as they age and are no longer able to care for them,” he said. “This is something they can engage with. They don’t’ have to worry about being bitten, or scratched, or having to feed or change the litter, but they still get the companionship aspect.”

Roeder said while they’ve studied the interactions of the memory care kit with dementia patients, he believes others can benefit.

“If someone is depressed or lonely it’s something they feel that is easier to approach than other humans, who they may be rejected by,” he said.

The program started at the beginning at this year.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.