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Robot seal helpful in treating dementia

When Paro the robotic seal was launched a few years ago it generated widespread coverage. Now Griffith University has published research to show that even robotic animals can have significant, albeit modest, benefits for those with dementia.

The research, published in The Journal of American Medical Directors Association (JAMDA), was led by professor Wendy Moyle at Griffith’s Menzies Health Institute Queensland. The study looked at whether the introduction of the Japanese-developed robotic seal could benefit people with dementia through a reduction in anxiety.

Paro responds to touch, temperature and voice and cost approximately $8500 and is used in situations where live assistance animals aren’t suitable. 415 people with dementia living in facilities participated in the study, the largest ever conducted using social robots.

Over the course of 10 weeks, the participants were separated into three groups: one group having individual sessions with Paro, one group having time with a plush toy (Paro with the robotic features switched off), and one control group continuing their routine facility care as usual.

Moyle said: “We found that residents in the Paro group were significantly more verbally and visually engaged with the Paro than those in the plush toy group, suggesting that the robotics were beneficial,” but added the caveat that “a robotic animal such as Paro should not be used to replace staff time, but rather be used during those inevitable periods when staff are otherwise preoccupied or when the individual may benefit from comfort and stimulation”.

“Knowing what works best, who with, and in what situations, will add to our understanding further of how Paro can be used in real clinical settings,” she said.


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