Robopets bringing joy and comfort to people with dementia

A dementia diagnosis can come as a shock to the person with the condition and those around them. But with almost half of the people living in East Sussex aged 50 or older, understanding the signs and diagnosing the condition as soon as possible is key to managing your, or a loved ones, health and wellbeing.

Last year, 5,992 people were living with dementia in East Sussex, but diagnosis rates across the UK have slowed down.

That’s why the theme of Dementia Action Week (15-21 May) this year was ‘Diagnosis’ , with organisations aiming to raise awareness and encourage people and their families to seek a timely diagnosis.

Although it can affect people as young as 30, older people are more likely to be diagnosed with a form of dementia – but identifying the disease can be tricky. Services such as The Memory Assessment Service (MAS) are there to offer an early assessment, diagnosis and treatment of people suspected of developing a dementia.

Symptoms of dementia can include confusion and needing help with daily tasks, problems with language and understanding, or changes in behaviour such as becoming unusually anxious or irritable.

Following a diagnosis, it’s natural to worry about the future, but it’s important to remember you’re not alone. There are sources of help and support for everyone involved on our East Sussex 1 Space web page.

Making a positive impact

To help people cope with the symptoms of dementia, East Sussex County Council has launched a pilot project giving people with early-stage dementia a robopet, which is a mechanical pet that looks just like a cat or dog.

The one-year pilot project started in April and is only the third pilot project of its kind in England.

The Council has homed 50 ‘pets’, with carers reporting the immediate health and wellbeing benefits on the people they care for, including aiding independence and providing companionship to those diagnosed with the condition.

One resident, Shirley, was ‘overwhelmed’ and ‘really happy’ to receive her pet dog. Shirley was given a dog because she had Labradors prior to being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Shirley’s daughter-in-law said: “Having the pet made a really positive impact on Shirley and they were inseparable. She got a lot of comfort from being with the pet and took it everywhere, whichever room she was in at home.”

For Shirley, and many of the residents receiving a robopet, it gives them a distraction when they become agitated and/or anxious as their symptoms increase and cognitive powers decline.

The robopet also helped Shirley’s full-time carer, who knew he could start to divert Shirley’s attention by talking to her about the pet. This gave him small amounts of respite at home during the day when Shirley became focused on the pet, which in turn made her less distressed, more relaxed and comforted.

*Please note, as the project is a pilot, East Sussex County Council is not currently accepting new referrals or applications.

Help with Dementia

The NHS has a dementia guide which offers information on symptoms, living with the condition, care and support and how people with dementia and their families and friends can access help.