The county council’s RoboPets scheme aims to support clients suffering with the early stages of the condition by giving them a robotic cat or dog which acts as a positive distraction for them.
As well as helping when a client becomes anxious, the automated pets provide companionship which can ease the pressure felt by carers.
They are also a talking point between clients and carers, encouraging a connection and aiding conversation.
Claire, a social prescriber who recently delivered a pet to a client, described the moment as “…very humbling and [it was] amazing to see the interaction with the pet. The client took to the pet straight away and gave it a name, talked to the pet, stroked and brushed it.
“The client was very happy interacting with the pet and thanked us for thinking of them.”
Since the project’s launch in April, 50 robotic companion pets have been homed across the county, with carers seeing positive health and wellbeing benefits for the people they care for.
Following positive feedback, the council’s Occupational Therapy team are working to identify 50 further clients whose health and wellbeing may benefit from receiving a robotic pet, and those eligible will be contacted direct by the OT team.
Maxine Rose, a Community Support Worker, said: “I delivered a dog today. The lady who received it was delighted and named her new pet and sat quietly stroking and talking to it.”
The one-year Being Digital pilot project has been commissioned by the county council’s Adult Social Care team and is one of only three projects operating nationwide.
The Being Digital team work on a wide range of projects, using digital technology to support new ways of working in order to help East Sussex residents.
Cllr Carl Maynard, lead member for adult social care and health at East Sussex County Council, said: “A dementia diagnosis can come as a shock to the person diagnosed and to those around them.
“In 2019, nearly 9,500 people in East Sussex were living with dementia and this is expected to rise to over 12,000 by 2025.
“We are delighted at the positive reaction those suffering from the early stages of the condition have had towards the robotic pets.
“This project aims to help people cope with the symptoms of the condition, by aiding independence and providing companionship and comfort.”
When the project ends next April, the council will evaluate the benefits of the pilot scheme to establish if the automated pets provide cost effective support to people living with dementia or other health conditions, and whether they should be made more widely available to eligible residents across East Sussex.
More information about dementia support in East Sussex is available at www.eastsussex.gov.uk/social-care/health-advice/mental-health/dementia-support-in-east-sussex
Details about local dementia services can be found on the East Sussex 1 Space website.