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PARO and its inventor Dr Takanori Shibata at Australian Healthcare week

PARO to the rescue: Australian Healthcare Week 2019

Japan has a rapidly ageing population. As it stands, 25 per cent of Japan’s population of approximately 127 million people are senior citizens – aged 65 or over – and by 2040 projections say that number will be at 35 per cent.

This has many knock-on effects, social and economic, but Japan will now struggle to have enough healthcare workers for the growing number in need of aged care.

While five decades ago there were 12 workers for every retiree, there will be an equal 1:1 ratio in 50 years.

This is where artificial intelligence and Dr Takanori Shibata comes in.

Shibata is the inventor of PARO, a therapeutic robot which aims to help fill the workforce gap and improve the lives of the elderly. PARO is now in use around the world and it was introduced to Australia in 2014.

As Shibata told the aged care conference, his ninth generation robot seal has all the therapeutic benefits of a real animal with none of the negatives.

PARO has the ability to learn. If you call PARO by another name, it eventually responds to its new name. Studies have shown than therapy using PARO in aged care settings can reduce the use of psychotropics.

Shibata cited a study that carried out treatment with two groups, one with PARO and one without. The group treated using  PARO reduced their depression and anxiety medication by 30 per cent, and the after-effects of PARO lasted two hours longer than the medication.

PARO has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, pain, aggression, wandering and improve sleep.

Researchers have also seen reduced tremors in people with Parkinson’s disease and a reduction in drug related falls in the elderly.

Other trials have shown rehabilitation of swallowing when using PARO as treatment – the patient can strengthen throat muscles by communicating with PARO – and CALD people with dementia who have lost language have been shown to recover it, again through communication with the robotic seal.

Shibata believes that even healthy older people can use PARO for company as part of a healthy ageing plan.

Aged Care Insite spoke with Shibata at Australian Healthcare Week.

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