Inspired by his grandmother with Alzheimer’s disease, 17-year-old Luke Torrey of Redmond is on a mission to combat loneliness and cognitive decline in older adults across the state.
Torrey said it became clear several years ago that his grandmother was experiencing “some sort of neurodegenerative disease.” With the isolation from COVID-19, he said, her memory started to get progressively worse.
In an effort to ease her anxiety, Torrey said, a family member gifted his grandmother with a Joy for All Companion Pet that resembled one of her childhood cats. He said the lifelike, interactive stuffed animal is designed to alleviate feelings of loneliness and provide recipients with a sense of companionship.
“At first, she was a little confused,” he said. “But as soon as she realized, it was one of the most life changing experiences – not only for her, but for me. I realized that this feeling was something I wanted to give to other people.”
Torrey co-founded the nonprofit Memory Mates alongside his friend Hannah Zunker, who is studying neuroscience at the University of Michigan. She is using survey results from active participants to hopefully develop quantifiable research in the future, he said.
From their research data so far, he said, the animal is proven to decrease anxiety and depression by about 40%. He said the product also increases patient stimulation by about the same amount.
The duo aims to raise $50,000 in support of older adults experiencing social isolation and cognitive decline across the state of Washington. Torrey also intends to share these companion pets with at least 55 facilities in King County.
“I believe the main goal of Memory Mates is just to make an impossible situation more feasible for Alzhiemer’s patients,” he said. “It's so difficult to go through, and all I really want to do is just bring as much joy and smiles to as many faces as possible.”
For Alzheimer’s patients specifically, Torrey said, he likes how the pets are easy to use. He was initially concerned the product would be too complicated and overwhelming. However, he said, it moves and interacts just enough to keep someone engaged.
“It takes these patients back to the time where they were able to care about something, and that was our number one priority,” he said.
To donate to Memory Mates, visit https://www.memorymates.org/donate.
Torrey encourages people to recommend other memory care facilities in the area that may benefit from the companion pets. The animals are also available for anyone living independently as well.
“This is much more of a passion project and there's no end date for me on this,” Torrey said. “I know I'm going to carry it through college and hopefully for the rest of my life. I want to grow it as big as I can.”