High school student Luke Torrey was sad to see his grandmother’s cognitive decline due to Alzheimer’s disease, which really accelerated during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
During the pandemic, his aunt ordered his grandmother a pet companion, a Joy for All Companion Therapy Cat, to help alleviate some of the loneliness and stress she was feeling during that difficult time.
The stuffed robotic pet, which has interactive qualities and moves and meows like a real cat, looks just like a gray tabby. (It’s now named Smokey, after a cat his grandmother had as a child.)
Luke was called on to get the robotic pet started up. And he saw that his grandmother lit up the moment she saw it activated.
“It was probably one of the most life-changing experiences for both her and myself,” says Luke, 17, who lives in Redmond.
“I set up the cat and immediately it does its come-to-life process, and my grandmother did the equivalent of a run across the room to kind of inspect what it was,” he says.
“It just really warmed my heart knowing that I’m making a positive difference on her life,” he says, relating how his grandmother smiles and laughs with the cat.
After that experience, Luke teamed up with his friend Hannah Zunker, a University of Michigan neuroscience major, and they have been raising money to bring furry pet companions to other seniors experiencing memory loss from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease across the state.
The animals have been designed with an eye toward helping ward off feelings of isolation and loneliness in seniors and to facilitate engaging with other people, including staff members at care facilities. They can also potentially help with mental acuity, as well.
“These pets can help patients in a few ways: First, they lower levels of depression and anxiety in patients,” explains memorymates.org, Torrey’s website for raising money for pet companions for the elderly. “Second, they increase patient stimulation, which leads to less falling.”
“Lastly, the pets increase patient energy and interaction; both with each other and the staff. They do this by providing a calming presence that takes their owners back to a place where they cared so deeply about something.”
Luke and Hannah’s goal now is to help every senior in a memory care facility in Washington — and, eventually, the United States — have access to a cat or pup. You can learn more about their fundraising campaign at the Memory Mates website.
So far, the campaign has raised just over $15,000.
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