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article imageSmart stuffed animal toys used to help patients

By Tim Sandle     Nov 4, 2016 in Health
A new ‘smart’ toy has been devised to give to Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. The toy is designed to ‘smooth’ the patients and the smart functionality adds therapeutic capabilities.
The toy has been designed by Fiona Kalensky from the University of Illinois, and it has led to a range called ‘Therapalz artificial companion animals.’ These take the form of cats and dogs, appearing ‘life-like’ and having computer controlled components that allow for interaction with the person holding them.
Previous studies have shown that by interacting with animals, those suffering with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can become calmer and less agitated. Keeping animals is not suitable for all environments, and this led to the development of artificial animal toys. The use of such devices also provides an alternative to the use of medications designed to calm patients (or at least a reduction in the frequency of medication).
The final product is the outcome of several months of research, including running focus groups with patients and caregivers. Speaking with medical technology site QMed, Fiona Kalensky explains the process: “Early on, we partnered with an adult day care facility and spent six months researching, attending support group sessions, interviewing, and observing home caregivers and their loved ones.”
Kalensky discussed the process further, outlining how “each insight was jotted down onto a Post-it over the course of that time…we began to examine how we could mimic animal therapy to recreate the same sensations and benefits of a live animal to provide a tool for caregivers.”
Learning from such discussions features were added to the Therapalz devices, such as giving the sensation of a constant heartbeat. The toys are also designed to respond to touch, such a providing a vibration or a purr. Trails with prototypes have been successful.
The animal toys continue to be developed and this process requires collaboration between engineering and healthcare, and a touch of creativity. A longer-term aim is to test out similar devices with those with autism, Asperger syndrome, and people coping with depression.
More about Alzheimer's disease, Dementia, Therapy, Elderly
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