Hospice patient finds comfort in AI therapy cat

Caring for communities

It was clear to the Enhabit Home Health & Hospice team that hospice patient Martha loved cats. Her apartment was full of cat pictures and cat figurines, something Area Manager Thad noticed the moment he walked in.

“I asked her if she liked kittens and her face just lit up,” he said. “She told me wished she could just hold and love on a little kitten.”

Martha’s daughter lived on a close-by farm with about 30 cats. She said Martha used to love playing with them.

Knowing how much kittens meant to Martha, Thad had an idea. He talked to Martha’s daughter about bringing a kitten out to spend the day with Martha. Everyone was immediately on board.

Once he arrived at Martha’s daughters farm, he chose a special kitten named Tiger to spend time with Martha.

“Martha had a blast and was beaming from ear to ear,” Thad said. “She was able to spend time loving on Tiger.”

The benefits of animals on hospice patients

Using animals to bring hospice patients joy during the end-of-life journey is common. In fact, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) says interacting with animals is proven to reduce levels of stress hormones called cortisol.

In addition to physical health benefits, animals can help reduce feelings of loneliness and boost one’s mood in a positive way.

Although getting Martha a cat would likely help with her loneliness and day-to-day mood, it didn’t seem possible in her circumstance. She lived at an assisted living facility with rules about having pets.

Enhabit team works together to help hospice patient get AI therapy cat

After hearing Martha’s situation, Enhabit Hospice Volunteer Coordinator Tiffany knew Martha could benefit from an animal companion in some way, even if it wasn’t a real pet.

“One of our hospice volunteers works at the Department on Aging,” she said. “She knew about a grant through her office where you could get a robotic therapy cat for dementia patients. All we had to do was fill out the application and then go pick up the cat!”

Thad ran the idea past Martha’s daughter, hoping to surprise Martha with her new furry friend. She agreed that it would be nice to give Martha the AI therapy cat so she could have something to love on.

With approval from the family and the Department on Aging, the Enhabit team joined together to pick up the artificial intelligence (AI) cat. And thanks to their teamwork, a hospice patient was soon to gain a new companion.

Enhabit employees smile with the boxed AI therapy cat
Enhabit employees Thad, area sales manager; Tiffany, volunteer coordinator; Kelli, area sales manager; Keri, office coordinator; and Ryan, chaplain

“In the last 3-4 months, our office has really developed a teamwork theme,” Thad said. “So everything we do, we share with each other. Every little thing plays off of each other. That’s in the field with serious hospice care-related items and stuff like this as well.”

Giving the hospice patient her AI therapy cat

Once the cat was in the hands of the Enhabit team, it was time to surprise Martha – but not without first making sure the cat was ready to go.

“I handed Thad a box with the cat in it – that’s it,” Tiffany said. “He took that cat out of the box, fluffed the hair up, made it more life-like and made it feel like we were giving Martha a Christmas present in August.”

With the cats fresh, new look, Thad made his way over to Martha’s facility.

“I told her I had a surprise for her,” he said. “When I introduced the cat to her, she was very excited. At first, she thought it was real, so I worked with her and explained that the cat was robotic. She now knows it’s a robotic AI cat but she treats it as if it’s her own real cat.”

Hospice patient Martha pets her AI therapy cat. The cat is tan and white with a blue collar.

Martha and her AI therapy cat

Martha and her robotic cat Princess were best friends. After having to transfer to a memory care unit, Martha made sure she brought Princess with her – and she loved on her every day.

“Martha was alone and isolated, especially when she was in the memory care unit,” Tiffany said. “So, it means a lot just knowing she had something that reminded her of her home.”

Although Princess is an AI cat, she behaves very similarly to a real cat. With around 60 sensors, Princess can do many cat-like activities like purring, blinking, or sticking her tongue out. Princess can even roll over to let you pet her belly.

Hospice patient Martha plays with her AI therapy cat while sitting on a blue recliner

The smart technology of the AI cat actually got to know Martha’s voice and only responded or reacted to her.

“It’s really kind of cool,” Thad said. “It’s a therapy cat and actually helps reduce anxiety. When Martha was sleeping at night, the cat slept too, and it obviously didn’t have to be fed or cleaned up after. It was a nice cat for her to have by her bedside. She had to initiate the interaction so it’s really a neat tool to have for dementia patients.”

Increasing a hospice patient’s quality of life

Hospice care teams get to make impacts on the lives of hospice patients like Martha every day. For this Enhabit team, Martha was just one case of the team coming together to increase a patient’s quality of life.

“Making an impact on patients like Martha – that’s my why,” Thad said. “That’s why I get up and do this every day. This is just one story – one more reason to get up and do this every day. This was a great show of teamwork from several at Enhabit to help make a difference in someone’s life.”

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