85-year old Mary Long, who has very limited speech because of dementia, has been ‘brought alive’ by a robotic pony at a Hastings care home.

Mary isn’t able to walk and rarely manages a single word to staff at Hastings Court care home on The Ridge. But she has made a significant connection with the pony, brought in for a recent racing-themed open day at the home, which is stimulating her communication and bringing her a great deal of pleasure.

“Mum can literally spend hours chatting to the pony, saying ‘come to Nanna’ and feeding it carrots,” said her daughter Sharon, who is the home’s receptionist. “She has always loved animals and as children we always had dogs and cats at home. To see her interacting with the pony, brushing it and laughing, is very, very special.”

A former dental nurse, Mary moved into Hastings Court shortly after it opened three years ago. She has memory loss and mobility problems as a result of Fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS). She often sits with Sharon as she works, and her husband and five other children regularly come in to see her.

Robotic pets have been shown to have similar benefits to real animals in helping to reduce feelings of loneliness, lower blood pressure and increase a person’s sense of wellbeing.

Home manager, Georgina Gamble, said: “When people like Mary lose the ability to communicate verbally they can find it more difficult to connect with others and as a result they can feel more isolated.

“The pony doesn’t demand anything of her but it responds to her touch by whinnying
and she’s made a connection that she gets a huge amount of pleasure out of. And the
effects of the interaction last – her mood is brighter for a while after spending time with the pony.”

The robot is having similar benefits for other residents in the 80-bed home, which offers residential, nursing, memory and respite care. They also enjoy visits from a live pony
and other therapy animals including sheep, dogs, ducks and rabbits.

“Although Mum can’t say much to me these days I know she’s happy here,” said Sharon. “To see her come alive when she spends time with the pony just makes my day.”


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