State Office for Aging Launches Phase III of Animatronic Pet Initiative Proven to Decrease Loneliness and Associated Health Risks in Older Adults
Pets presented to older New Yorkers in partnership with the Community Health Center of the North Country, the Community Friendship Volunteer Program and Assemblyman Billy Jones
Social isolation cited for $6.7 billion in additional Medicare spending annually – comparable to arthritis, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes
Award-winning initiative aims to deliver 3,500 robot pets to isolated older adults throughout New York State’s Aging Network
Franklin County, NY – The New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA) is launching phase three of its award-winning Animatronic Pet Award initiative to combat social isolation for thousands of older adults across the state. Its aim is to deliver 3,500 animatronic pets to older adults through New York State’s aging network and leverage additional funding opportunities for further program expansion.
To mark this effort, NYSOFA recently joined with Assemblyman Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay Lake) and representatives of two North Country community services organizations – the Community Health Center of the North Country and the Community Friendship Volunteer Program – to present an animatronic pet to Jane Richards of Franklin County. The pets are produced by Ageless Innovations and Joy for All and are being distributed to individuals throughout the state. These plush, "lifelike" robotic pets are designed to make realistic sounds and motions, providing comfort and companionship to individuals.
Studies find that social isolation has a direct impact on an individual’s health, translating into $6.7 billion in additional associated Medicare spending per year, according to the AARP Public Policy Institute. Throughout the pandemic, aging services providers have turned to technologies and other strategies that help overcome increasingly widespread levels of social isolation and improve public health.
In 2018, well before the pandemic, NYSOFA launched a pilot project to study the impact of animatronic pets provided to older adults who may be struggling with loneliness. Robot pets have long been used for calming therapies when individuals suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia, improving cognitive abilities. NYSOFA’s pilot program likewise found that these pets improved health and wellbeing for older adults at a broader level.
As part of the pilot program, 60 individuals in 12 counties were equipped with animatronic pets provided through their county’s Area Office on Aging. Using the DeJong Loneliness Scale at various time intervals in the project, NYSOFA found that 70 percent of these older adults reported a reduction/significant reduction in loneliness as well as a 75 percent decrease in pain.
“Loneliness and isolation among some older adults are a public health problem, equivalent to smoking almost a pack of cigarettes daily, contributing to increased health care costs,” said Greg Olsen, Director of the New York State Office for the Aging. “Our project made a significant difference in combatting social isolation and we are proud to continue our public-private partnership to make these pets available to individuals who can benefit from them.”
He added: “In 2017, New York received the nation’s first designation as an age-friendly state by the World Health Organization and AARP. NYSOFA’s animatronic pet program is one creative and proven approach – among our many other service programs and partnerships – to address core age-friendly goals.”
Assemblyman Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay Lake) said: “Studies have shown time and again that isolation has a severe detrimental impact on the physical and mental health of older adults. Robotic pets have become a proven success to not only help seniors overcome social isolation and improve public health but cut down on health care costs. I want to thank the state Office for the Aging for expanding this critical program so that even more older New Yorkers can benefit and combat the effects of loneliness.”
Community Friendship Volunteer Coordinator Susan Schrader said: “I am grateful for the opportunity to share with my seniors the animatronic pets to help alleviate their loneliness and to provide comfort in the form of one of these amazing animals. I have witnessed firsthand the benefits that these pets provide and I will strive to pair the seniors in most need of companionship with one of them.”
Community Health Center of the North Country Director of Communications and Marketing Ray Babowicz said: “While Community Health Center of the North Country thankfully has built a strong network of core services and partnerships – like our growing community volunteer program – we must, as a region, continue to get creative in combatting social isolation. This demands a multi-faceted approach at all levels. NYSOFA’s animatronic pet initiative is one great example of this innovation. We are proud to support NYSOFA’s effort, which is proving to help older adults in the community by offering important social and related health benefits.”
Association on Aging in New York (AANYS) Executive Director Becky Preve said: “The Association on Aging in New York is thrilled to be part of this innovative initiative to address social isolation and loneliness. The animatronic pet project is a low-cost intervention that enhances the lives of older residents and their families. We applaud the New York State Office for the Aging, and all the community partners that have implemented this program, showing a continued commitment to supporting older New Yorkers.”
Ted Fischer, Co-Founder and CEO of Ageless Innovations and Joy for All, said: “We are honored to enter phase three of the animatronic pet initiative and deepen our great partnership with the state of New York. We continue to be inspired by the innovative leadership of NYSOFA, the Association of Aging in New York and all our New York colleagues. The stories of positive impact that the Joy for All Companion Pets have on aging loved ones across the state of New York mean so much to our entire team.”
About the New York State Office for the Aging and Health Across All Policies/Age-Friendly New York
The New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA) continuously works to help the state’s 4.3 million older adults be as independent as possible for as long as possible through advocacy, development and delivery of person-centered, consumer-oriented, and cost-effective policies, programs, and services that support and empower older adults and their families, in partnership with the network of public and private organizations that serve them.
New York is nationally recognized for being the first age-friendly state in the nation. Using the state’s Prevention Agenda as the overarching framework, in 2017, New York launched a Health Across All Policies approach, where public and private partners work together to positively impact population health by marrying health care, preventive health, and community design, in concert with addressing social determinants of health, to improve the lives of all New Yorkers, young and old.
Stay connected—download the NYSOFA mobile app for iOS or Android; visit the NYSOFA Facebook page; follow @NYSAGING on Twitter and NYSAging on Instagram; or visit aging.ny.gov.