Mary long with animatronic pony image

A robotic pony has helped 85-year-old advanced dementia patient Mary Long, who has limited speech, chat for hours in a care home in Hastings.

Georgina Gamble, Manager of Hastings Court care home, bought the animatronic pony on eBay for a racing-themed open day. Although initially bought for Georgina’s grandchildren to play with, Mary chatted to the toy for hours.

Staff at Hastings Court told that they were amazed by Mary chatting to the robotic pony for so long and that it has “brought her alive.”

Mary long with animatronic pony imageTherapy pets are often used in care environments, with manufacturers producing robotic therapy pets especially for the care market, for people who are unable to look after a real animal. The aim of robotic pets is to help those with dementia or speech conditions speak more, build relationships and feel less isolated.

Georgina commented: “When people like Mary lose the ability to verbally communicate they can find it more difficult to connect with others and as a result, they can feel more isolated.

“The pony doesn’t demand anything of her, but it responds to her touch by whinnying and she’s made a connection that she gets a huge amount of pleasure out of. And the effects of the interaction last – her mood is brighter for a while after spending time with the pony.”

Sharon, Mary’s daughter, said that she is amazed by the difference the animatronic toy has made to her mother’s mood. “To see Mum come alive when she spends time with the pony just makes my day,” she added.

The realistic looking animatronic horse, which makes a whinnying sound and moves its head and legs, is not as big as a real pony but was originally designed for young children to sit on.

Studies have shown that robotic pets have similar benefits to real animals because they can increase feelings of wellbeing to counteract those of loneliness, as well as help to lower blood pressure.

Sharon commented: “I went and brought my mum downstairs as I knew she loved animals and she literally sat talking to the pony for three hours and was trying to feed it and brush it. To see her interacting with the pony, brushing it and laughing, is very, very special.”

Staff at Hastings Court found that the robotic pony had a similar effect on many of the other residents in the care home too, with other therapy animals such as sheep, dogs, ducks and rabbits, also bringing the same joy.

Oakland Care’s Hastings Court care home offers residential, nursing, memory and respite care.

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