Lifelike robotic pets give people with dementia in Sunderland and South Tyneside comfort and company

The use of four-legged friends to bring comfort and company is a familiar concept in medical and social settings.

But a North East health trust is trying out something altogether different - lifelike robotic pets.

Patients with dementia and other conditions across Sunderland and South Tyneside are now being given the toy cats and dogs.

They have had a positive response and are helping to reduce anxiety and blood pressure in patients.

Lesley Carlton, lead nurse for patient experience at Sunderland Royal Hospital, said: "They actually have quite lifelike breathing and quite a calming, soothing noise, so a lot of the patients we find naturally just stroke them and actually enjoy doing that and find it calming."

The lifelike dogs and cats are prompting a positive response from patients Credit: ITV News Tyne Tees

At Sunderland Royal Hospital they have long known the proven benefits of bringing therapy dogs onto wards but with the restrictions brought by Covid, those visits are not possible, so these lifelike robotic pets are being trialed instead and are now being used more widely.

Ms Carlton added: "It was intended originally just for mainly dementia and delirium patients because it was known to reduce agitation and confusion and things like that but we have found that it's crossed other types of patients, so we have had paediatric patients who've benefitted from it, patients on stroke wards, so a variety of different patients."

Among the patients to benefit from their use is Ray Alexander who has been treated on the stroke ward for six weeks. He has just been given a pet to keep him company.

Pat Alexander said: "He's just started stroking her now and he's give it a name - Kissey, cos that's what we called our Staffy. He seems to be liking it. He asked if it was alive."

'Positive impact'

One in 14 people over the age of 65 have a form of dementia and that number is rising.

By 2025 it is estimated more than a million people in the UK will have dementia, so finding new treatments and therapies is a constant battle.

Richard White, from the Alzeimer's Society, said: "This kind of animal therapy without live animals is a quite new thing, there is research ongoing but it is quite a new addition.

"But anecdotally at least, from what we see from patients here and in other areas, it seems to have a really positive impact on people living with dementia."

Patients are allowed to take the pets when they leave hospital giving them continuity as they move between homes and wards, carrying on the benefits of this simple therapy.