There is plenty of documented evidence that caring for a pet is therapeutic for older people. The closeness and companionship of a cat or dog can bring a sense of comfort and calmness to both the senior and the pet.
What if the person is unable to care for a pet? Well, there is an option out there. Developed in 2003 by the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan, "Paro", the robot seal, is a furry creation designed to arch its back when scratched, turn its head to make the reach easier when rubbed, and coo and whimper just like a baby seal. Because Paro is so lifelike, people tend to believe in it and be affectionate to it. The creator, Dr. Walter Shibata, says he modeled the robot after a baby seal because people think they are cute but have little experience with them. Dr. Shibata says people that interact with the robot tend to be cheered up, motivated and talkative, just like those who care for animals.
At this time, the robot is not widely sold in the United States and like any new technology, is a bit pricey. But perhaps, its time has come.