New and Unusual Memory Care in CNY

Syracuse, NY (January 18, 2018) – There is no single solution to provide the best quality-of-life for people suffering from memory loss, especially when the needs of those individuals vary so broadly. But PACE CNY is trying something new to help its program’s participants and their loved ones feel comforted in the turbulent sea of a progressive disease.

The Loretto Foundation has provided funds for PACE CNY to implement innovative Memory Care Kits for its program participants. The kits include animatronic therapy, aromatherapy, doll therapy, horticulture therapy, memory aids, and sensory stimulation.

“There is no guarantee that one intervention will work every time, so we need a go-to source for ideas, tools, and objects to engage participants,” said Orion Roeder, CTRS Director of Therapeutic Recreation at PACE CNY.


Loretto and PACE CNY partnered with SUNY Oswego and determined that an animatronic cat called “JustOCat” had a statistically significant impact on PACE participants’ quality of life, specifically their increased frequency of smiling and decrease in irritable or aggressive behavior, as determined by QUALID (Quality of Life in Late Stage Dementia) scores.

Pet therapy and pet ownership are effective evidence-based interventions for persons of any age and ability. “What becomes difficult for pet owners as they age, is how they can continue to receive the same benefits, without having to manage the care for their animals,” Roeder said. “The JustOCat robotic therapy cat breathes, purrs, has soft plush fur, and has the same weight as a real cat on your lap. So, our participants get all of the benefits without the cost or physical difficulties of caring for a cat, and the real danger of bites or scratches.”

The JustOCat is now used in the PACE CNY day centers and in the home as needed, to trial whether a participant will benefit from animatronic intervention. If a participant benefits from the trial period, the PACE team can recommend procurement of an animatronic cat or dog in a participant’s home. JustOCat also includes a chip that monitors the behavior of participants, as well as their location.


Baby Doll therapy is another evidenced-based tool in the new Memory Care kits at PACE CNY.

“Humans are instinctually hardwired to nurture,” said Roeder. “If that is coupled with a participant’s previous occupation or lifestyle, the results are immediately apparent.” Studies show that elders who have memory loss and are offered this opportunity, become intrinsically motivated by their continued ability to give back/contribute to society and their mood improves.

The Kimmy Kats & Kay Dolls for the Memory Care kits were funded by a PACE CNY participant’s family, who found these interventions to be invaluable to their mother’s care before her death in 2016. It was their wish to pass along a legacy of access to tools they directly observed to have helped their mother through a difficult time.


The Memory Care kits also include Horticulture Therapy, which has been shown to decrease depression and brooding, in the form of an AeroGarden Sprout. This delivers the ambience of horticulture therapy, without the maintenance and untidiness.

Sensory-based interventions in the kit, such as an LED cherry blossom tree and aromatherapy diffuser have been shown to interrupt maladaptive behaviors when they occur acutely, and decrease anxiety and agitation, long-term.


When one PACE participant held the JustOCat for the first time, she was impressed with how lifelike it is. While completing the survey for this study, she exclaimed, “It’s breathing!” The same participant’s family was so pleased with their mother’s reaction to the JustOCat, that they ordered an animatronic cat two days later. When the week-long study was over for this participant, the fur was matted from petting, there was lipstick on the face from nuzzling, and rouge on the paws from cuddling. (Thankfully, the creators of JustOcat anticipated this, and the outside of the cat is washable.)

“Using all of these items as behavioral interventions is a step forward in interrupting negative behaviors and increasing quality of life for our program participants suffering from memory loss,” Roeder said.

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