Jill Quinn, CEO of Dementia Forward with the robotic cats
Jill Quinn, CEO of Dementia Forward with the robotic cats

Innovative ways of supporting dementia sufferers in North Yorkshire; from Café in a Box to robot cats

17 November 2020

A group of people who’ve been acutely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns are those living with dementia in North Yorkshire.

As regular meet-ups and organised events which provided some vital structure and routine have been cancelled, there is a risk that people become disengaged and their level of confusion worsens.

But the team of staff and volunteers at Dementia Forward have come up with innovative ways to help people with dementia across the county – including some robotic pets.

North Yorkshire County Council funds Dementia Forward as the dementia support service for the county.

Jill Quinn, CEO of Dementia Forward, said:

Ordinarily at Dementia Forward we run 15 weekly pop-up activities, some with as many as 40 to 50 people attending, but obviously because of Covid-19 we cannot run them in the same way.

The main focus on these groups is wellbeing with meaningful activities that promote laughter, socialising and peer support.

At the minute we are getting quite a lot of emotional calls to our helpline from people who are saying their relatives with dementia are deteriorating because they can’t get out and about.

And it’s very difficult for family and carers too; to constantly have to think up ways to keep people occupied.

So this is how we came up with the idea for a Café in a Box and NYCC Stronger Community funding has helped us get this project going.

Jill said the Café in a Box will be tailored to each individual person and their interests, and involve activities like puzzles and jigsaws, books and games, laminated jokes and sheets with activities plus tips for caregivers, such as varying days by not doing everything in the same room.

There will also be teabags and biscuits to get the full “café” experience, kindly donated by Betty’s and Taylors of Harrogate.

Jill added:

The box will be delivered by volunteers who are also missing the interaction that the cafes provided.

It will be done in a safe, socially distant way. After a week, a volunteer will call back and check in to see how they are getting on and after three weeks collect the box and change it for another.

And thanks to the Knaresborough Rotary Club, Dementia Forward has an even more futuristic way to help people living with dementia, with their fleet of robotic cats.

The robots are a similar weight to a cat and interact in a lifelike way, creating a calming effect.

Jill said Dementia Forward has previously worked with NYCC to trial the cats and they were so popular that people became attached to them and wanted to keep them.

Jill said:

This really generous offer from Knaresborough Rotary has come along just at the right time.

They have named the project Rotary Companion Cats and each cat wears a cat tag kindly sponsored by Timpsons with the Dementia Forward help line number on it.

They are going to get 50 cats donated by the Rotary Club and will get them out to people before Christmas.

Jill said:

They are very lifelike and purr and react when they are stroked.

They can provide comfort for a person with dementia who is anxious or unable to settle by providing a calming effect.

One example we witnessed was a woman who was very into arts and crafts, but her dementia meant that she would get anxious and wasn’t able to stay involved in any activity.

But once we placed the cat on her knee she sat and stroked it – it created a calming distraction which enabled her to stay focussed and enjoy the activity.

Vida Care Homes helped to trial the cats, with positive results.

Staff at the care home said:

One resident absolutely loved the cat. She was very reluctant to give it back. It offered comfort and purpose to her and we saw a significant improvement in her mood.

Another has experienced absolute moments of joy from ‘Jess’. Her daughter informs us she never had an affinity to pets but ‘Jess’ is proving different.

We have had to buy shampoo caps to clean her as Joan doesn’t like to be apart even at mealtimes. Even on a quiet day the cat will spark conversation and a smile.


Marie-Ann Jackson, Head of Stronger Communities at North Yorkshire County Council, said:

Like many local organisations across the county who are unable to deliver their normal support services due to the current restrictions, Dementia Forward have come up with some wonderfully innovative and alternative ways to support people.

The café in a box is such a great idea, especially as they are personalising the boxes so they are really tailored to be an individual’s interests.

Once again, we see volunteers helping out with the deliveries and calls, caring for people in their communities to make sure people are ok and maintain some social contact.

This is a brilliant initiative from Dementia Forward and will, I’m sure, be really appreciated.

Dementia Forward’s helpline is 03300 578592 for anyone who needs support and advice.

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