Is It Live, or Is It Memorex?

April 18, 2019
Denise Hyde

I remember when audio tapes and tape players were a brand new thing. Memorex was a company that made cassettes on which you could record voice and music. (The title to this blog was their advertising pitch.) I recorded songs off the radio to create my own mixed tapes so I could enjoy the music over and over again.

Life has progressed, along with technology, and now we can listen or watch almost anything we want, whenever we want, wherever we want and as often as we want. We don’t have to be there for live events. We can post our recordings on Facebook and YouTube so others can watch them too. It’s incredible!

I get concerned, though, when substituting facsimiles for the “real thing” bumps up against my passion for Elders living meaningful lives. We know that the three plagues of loneliness, helplessness and boredom cause the bulk of suffering for Elders. When an organization is ready, and has done the appropriate foundational work, we advocate for the creation of a Human Habitat filled with the antidotes to these plagues: loving companionship, opportunities to give and receive care, and variety and spontaneity. What better way to do that than to introduce people of all ages and abilities, LIVE plants and LIVE animals into the home?

Artificial plants have long been available in a variety of shapes and sizes. We can now also purchase robotic cats and dogs that are fairly life-like. Some of them can blink their eyes and move their paws. They have fur that feels real, they purr when stroked, and even look like they are breathing while they sleep. Some of them are advertised as therapeutic for individuals living with dementia. They offer a “real pet ownership experience without the hassles and expense.”

In this day and age anything that is low budget, and minimal hassle, is a viable option, right?

Well, I’m filled with more questions than answers about introducing faux elements of the Human Habitat. I know there are situations in which Elders have demonstrated great affection for the robotic pets. My curiosity is whether that is because they believe them to be real, or because they believe it is the best they can hope for in their current living situation. Do robotic pets offer loving companionship, the antidote to loneliness? Do robotic pets and fake plants provide opportunities to give and receive care, the antidote to helplessness? Do robotic pets and fake plants offer variety and spontaneity, the antidote to boredom? Are we bringing in fake plants and robotic pets because we lack the energy or creativity to bring in the live versions instead? Are we are seeking a short-cut?

I would love to engage in a dialogue about this. Do fake plants and robotic pets have a place in the Human Habitat? If so, what is the role that they play? If you needed support and were given a robotic pet, would it bring meaning to your life and help alleviate loneliness, helplessness and boredom? I welcome new perspectives, and I look forward to hearing yours.

8 Comments. Leave new

Marianne Taylor
April 18, 2019 11:51 am



When people ask me, “But what about the person that demonstrates some sort of joy from the robotic fake pet or fake baby?” I find my brain not able to answer and instead it goes to this question, “How did the fake even become an option? Where did it come from? Who thought of it and why?” And, the only answer I can come up with is ageism. It seems to me it shows we don’t think much of the person with dementia who can’t really answer the question “Would you like this fake thing since we really don’t have time to be with you?” And what we see, which many point out, I’ve even heard people with dementia say this, “Well, its better than nothing.” A woman living with dementia who admitted knowing she was folding fake towels once told Dr. Richard Taylor, “Well, its better than a stick in the eye.” And, yes I know we can’t have babies in a nursing home 24/7 but what we CAN do is put our efforts toward REAL instead of fake. I also recommend NOT turning to the activity director and saying, “Find more babies.” Why? Because in and of her/himself, she/he doesn’t know enough babies. It has to be a TEAM/COMMUNITY – WIDE effort. The message needs to be “We need more babies. Please help us find them. Talk to your sister, neighbor, cousin, friends and paint the picture of elders needing babies and children of all ages and those children needing the elders. The message also needs to be that elders need the real animals whether team members like them or not, its time to give up what those who only work there like/don’t like and to serve those who live there. We have to get the message out. Thank you Denise. Thank you Al Power for pointing out these fake things are artificial giving only an artificial sense of care and love. If interested, I have a short series of webinars in my Conversations with Carmen monthly webinar Thank you Bill and Jude Thomas and the entire Eden family for advocating for real. Apparently, the companies of the robotic animals even offer a commission. What does that say? Sorry, but I do think we can do better and real people deserve better, they deserve real. Just move in the direction of real everyone, let the fake fade out and put your energy into real where it makes sense, where depression is reduced, and real joy experienced!


Thank you Marianne and Carmen. I know that bringing in live animals and plants is tough. We had our challenges at the home I was a part of, but we persevered. The stories about the difference real animals and plants made in the lives of the Elders that lived there were extraordinary!


I know this is a tough one. I have a dog and I love her and would never replace her with a fake pet. But then I think of my grandma. She was not a pet lover, but she loved stuffed animals. The family all knew that, and so it was no uncommon to give grandma a stuffed teddy bear, or dog or my favorite was her stuffed Koala. Did she know they weren’t real. Absolutely! But did she enjoy holding them and sharing them with her grandchildren, you bet! The world has changed so much in my lifetime. What was science fiction when I was a child is now reality. We are learning new and different ways to bring technology into our lives in ways that bring us joy (and sometimes frustration!). Aren’t Elders entitled to that same opportunity? I wish things were simple, but the reality is that we live in a world that is not black and white, but gray. In a person-centered culture, we look for ways to honor the beliefs and preferences of each individual. No one ever said this was easy.

Wendy Vaughn
May 18, 2019 2:15 pm

While at times “we” think we know what Elders living in residential care may want. But when was the last time we really asked them what they want? When was the last time we really listened to them? Did you ever hear an Elder say they want a mechanical pet or “permanent” plants? I’ve been fortunate to have been employed in residential care for nearly 20 years in various roles. Not once, did an Elder ever request to have a fake pet or plant. I’ve had horses, dogs and cats all of my life. The relationships that grow out of caring for other living things and beings is where the heart of the matter is held. When I move into long-term living, please don’t put a technologically advanced critter in my lap and assume I want it or that I will believe it’s “real.” YOU will be the crazy one in that instant. Fortunately, I’ve been on the innovating forefront of bringing culture change to life in eldercare for a very long time. Whenever Elders were asked about their life history and what they want to see and have in their new world of long-term care, not once did an Elder ask for imitation critters or silk plants. They always looked forward to being real gardeners, being real cooks & bakers, caring for live cats, dogs, fish, etc., doing things that are meaningful & purposeful and having regular, quality interaction with children. Elders need authentic relationships with other living things and beings. But, there are those who enjoy collecting dolls and stuffed animals and other things. Generally the collectors enjoy sharing their collectibles with others which does indeed eliminate the Three Plagues. The collector incites a relationship with the interested person during this time of sharing. But don’t be foolish enough to believe the collectors actually think their collected objects are “real”. The Elders have all the answers to our questions about what to include in their habitat. Ask them, listen intently for that which brings meaning and purpose to their lives and then watch for the twinkle in their eyes when their heart is touched.

Michael R Belleville
May 24, 2019 1:54 pm

There is a breakout session at the Dementia Action Alliance conference being held in Atlanta from June 20-22. I am actually going to be one of six people on a panel that will be discussing it. There will be proponents and those that are not. I am a person living with dementia and I am opposed to them, there will also be another person living with dementia who is a proponent. He also happens to be a very good friend of mine. Please go to DAANOW.ORG if you are interested in getting more information about the conference. I would be thrilled to discuss this with you more if you would like, but maybe after the conference? I don’t want to give anything anyway..LOL. I hope that it was OK to post about the conference, if not then please let me know. Thank you for bringing up a topic that really needs to be talked about!

Denise Hyde
June 5, 2019 8:59 am

Beth Sanders, with LifeBio, wrote a blog and sent me the link. The blog topic is about Virtual Reality/Robots vs Real People. Here is the link:


I’ve just come back from the DAA Atlanta Conference. A truly great conference, everyone. Put this in your calendar now for the next one! Unfortunately I missed the session Mike (above) refers to, however I would like to contribute my views on the subject. We have always worked with technology : the hand dipped in ochre and waved across the cave wall is a technological idea, ie we use a tool, which I define as ‘something beyond our bodies that we manipulate to create meaning’. Jumping a couple of millennia, a feather becomes a quill pen and now we can offload our thoughts onto paper. We then learn to manipulate the written word to construct ideas, both concrete and in the imagination, to develop more sophisticated constructions than we could if we limited our thinking to that which purely existed in our heads. Jump forward a few centuries and we have the printing press; now we can distribute those idea. Now think of the internet and the information ‘flow’ that ensues. And AI, which my clever cofounder, Serge Soudoplatoff, explains as “expertise, everywhere”.

Let’s pull up here, and think again about robotics in this context. Why not think of robotic pets as intelligence embodied; a transactional smart object that gets us to where we want go, just as the other technologies I have highlighted do. These critters are a way to amplify an effect or a knowledge or an experience. It is not we care staff who are attributing meaning to the non-biological critter – it’s the person who is stroking it. Should we rob them of the opportunity to make meaning out of objects around them? Who is making the decision here – especially as throughout our lives we do just this. We ALL take advantage of tech-enabled substitutes for the the real thing: a musical recording in place of attending a concert, a skype call instead of a visit, an emoji kiss instead of a peck on the cheek, frequent flyer miles, instead of coins in the hand, a doctor’s video call instead of an actual visit, and so on.

In short, we live in a world where actual and virtual objects and experiences merge together. This may sound unpalatable to some, but both are REAL when they have a real impact on us and that we create real meaning from them. In the case of robotic animals, the impact can be visceral, embodied, emotional…

We should accept the interplay, for this is the modern world. You and I coexist with simulation in our everyday lives – why would we prevent people living with dementia to also have the same opportunities?

That said, I’m putting in a request for less synthetic fur and the smell of doggy fur and skin. Oh, and I still want regular walks in the park, fragrant flowers in my room, and regular visits from some friendly neighborhood pooches, too.


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