Pet therapy has historically been used by patients who are struggling with mental health conditions, like depression, PTSD, or battling a chronic illness like Cancer. Art therapy helps people express feelings and emotions.

Now, scientists are studying a program that uses both forms of therapy virtually for patients struggling with hearing loss.

Installation artist Sankhya Jejurikar’s health journey began in 2013 when doctors found an acoustic neuroma in her brain.

“It’s a slow growing tumor. Fortunately, it is benign, but it sits on these three nerves,” said Sankhya Jejurikar, Installation Artist.

Last year, Sankhya needed surgery to remove the tumor but she still feels the effects.

“I’ve lost complete hearing in my left ear. It is isolating, frustrating.” Jejurikar said.

“We’re very quick as physicians to give antidepressants to our patients or say ‘Okay, yes, yes, you’re feeling sad. Here you go.'” said Dr. Soma Sengupta, PhD Neuro-oncologist at the University of Cincinnati.

Instead, enter this fuzzy little robotic pet. It’s the first half of a scientific study on patient well-being for people with hearing loss.

“The robotic pets allow us to have that companionship without the burden of feeding, take care of a pet, or cleaning up after a pet.” said Dr. Claudia Rebola, Researcher and Designer at the University of Cincinnati.

The second part involves art.

“When people make art, it tends to reduce their defenses.” said Dr. Meera Rastogi, Psychologist and Art Therapist at the University of Cincinnati.

“What if you combine these modalities and digitalize them?” Dr. Sengupta said.

The researchers designed a self-guided art therapy app. For 12 weeks, patients do their own art therapy. Then, they answer questions about their mood.

Half of the patients take home a robotic pup. The pets have “Smart Collars” sensors that record the number and length of interactions.

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Researchers want to quantify how adding pets to the art increases well-being, making connections with the stroke of a hand, or a touch of a fingertip.