GLEN ARM, Md. — Mary Thompson sits in a hallway at Glen Meadows Retirement Community, staring aimlessly. Since she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s around six years ago, it’s been difficult to get the 86-year-old to interact with others, her son Mark Thompson said. Most of her sentences don’t make sense and she doesn’t talk much. But place Henry — a robotic cat — in her lap, and her whole demeanor begins to change.

“Oh, you’re so sweet,” she says as she pets his white and tan fur lovingly. The cat vibrates with purrs and moves his head and paws if he’s cleaning himself. He occasionally blinks and rolls onto his back so that Mary can touch his belly, and in between rubs, Henry, who responds to touch, lets out a series of loud meows — just like a real cat. Mary looks up with joyful surprise.

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