Evaluation of a Robotic Pet Intervention Protocol for Older Adults with Dementia


  • Rhonda Nelson University of Utah
  • Rebecca Westenskow University of Utah


dementia, memory care, robotic pets, long term care, recreational therapy, older adults


Interest in the therapeutic use of robotic pets with older adults living with dementia has increased in recent years. Preliminary studies have documented a variety of positive outcomes, but the lack of published intervention protocols and affordable robotic pet models has created a barrier to widespread adoption of evidence-based practices in long-term care (LTC) facilities. The purpose of this study was to evaluate a robotic pet intervention protocol by documenting participant responses, effective facilitation techniques, participant enjoyment, and session length. During the intervention, participants were given a choice of the cat and dog models of the Joy for All Companion Pets. The protocol was developed and piloted for use in the memory care unit of a LTC facility. Sessions were facilitated by a recreational therapy professional in participants’ private rooms and each was video-recorded and timed. Results outline the most common interactive behaviors exhibited by participants, including petting, brushing, holding, and communicating with the robotic pet. Facilitator techniques that promoted engagement included modeling interactions, repositioning the pet, providing verbal prompts, asking questions, and allowing quiet interaction. On a scale of 1-10, participants’ overall rating of enjoyment of the activity was 7.80 (SD = 1.87) indicating they enjoyed the activity “quite a bit.” They also provided qualitative feedback on elements they liked best or did not like. Session length (M = 30.33, SD = 4.37) data is helpful for future use of this particular protocol. This research represents a step forward in documenting a specific robotic pet protocol for older adults with dementia and illustrating intervention specifics that can be replicated. Findings offer insight for recreational therapy practitioners wishing to provide evidence-based robotic pet interventions and data to inform future research.

Author Biographies

Rhonda Nelson, University of Utah

Rhonda Nelson, Ph.D., MTRS, CTRS, MT-BC, FDRT is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Occupational and Recreational Therapies at the University of Utah.

Rebecca Westenskow, University of Utah

Rebecca Westenskow is a graduate student in the Department of Occupational and Recreational Therapies at the University of Utah.





Research Papers