Meet "Molly" 3

Robotic Baby Seal Helping Manage Residents With Alzheimer’s Disease, Dementia

If you’ve ever cared for a parent or other loved one with Alzheimer’s and/or dementia, you know that among the many challenges you face are their sudden, sometimes dangerous, mood swings that can run the gamut from deep depression to agitation to hostility.

Staff at the new Legend Memory Care at Rivendell now have a new and creative tool they can use to help prevent or lessen the severity of these symptoms: a high-tech, robotic baby harp seal named Molly.

Molly, a Federal Drug Administration-approved robot weighing about 6 lbs., serves this special population much like a dog or cat or other pets do, but without the possible adverse effects of allergies and germs (it’s antibacterial), or any feeding, watering and walking requirements. And Legend at Rivendell is the only facility in Oklahoma to have one.

Residence Director Heather Xoquic explains that the sensors on the “fur” pick up and analyze stressor chemicals on hands–and responds in various ways to calm down the individual. Over time, she says, Molly “learns” to identify each person with which it interacts and develops an algorithm that allows it to “anticipate” individual needs through touch and voice. Molly has even been used to help prevent residents from “sundowning,” a phenomenon associated with increased confusion and restlessness in persons with some dementia that manifests itself in the evening or at sundown.

“It moves its tail and fins, makes baby seal noises, vibrates and pretty much responds like a real pet does,” Xoquic says, explaining that the baby seal was selected rather than a dog or cat because some people have had negative prior experiences with those animals.

But Molly is only one way that the staff is working to improve the quality of their residents’ lives.

Already known as one of Oklahoma City’s premiere upscale assisted living centers, the community on Feb. 18 opened the first of three planned memory care neighborhoods. A second opened in August.

Each neighborhood, Xoquic says, has 15 apartments and a capacity to house up to 25 residents. Each boasts its own dining and living rooms, a life enrichment studio, courtyard and media room.

Xoquic emphasizes that the communities are “100 percent focused on memory care residents, from the design of the community to the programming to the trained staff.”

For example, memory care residents participate in parallel programming: small-group activities held at the same time but in different locations, based on participants’ current strengths and abilities so that they are not in competition and can be successful.

The staff also have at their disposal an array of techniques to promote healthful eating, including a special diffuser that emits a scent known to whet the appetite and the use of hot lemon water-soaked washcloths; lemons stimulate neurons associated with and serve nicely as a face/hand cleaner and antiseptic. Even the color of the plates–terra cotta–was carefully chosen to not only stimulate hunger but to assist those with visual impairments to better see their food.

With an eye to the future, Xoquic says the Legend at Rivendell leadership team continues to work to anticipate the demands of coming generations of caregivers. They will soon launch a statistics-based program to meet the growing numbers of people who want to have all the facts before selecting a place to send their elderly parents or other loved one. Through this program, data will be made accessible on such issues of possible concern as frequency of hospitalizations and falls and changes in an individual’s Global Deterioration Scale (a measure of Alzheimer’s and dementia).

For more information about Legend Assisted Living and Memory Care, please call Connie Daniels or Heather Xoquic at 703.2300 or visit legendseniorliving.com.