Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are expected to increase as the population ages, and one of the most difficult parts of patient treatment is managing the sufferer’s disorientation, stress, and confusion. Robotic pets may offer a solution to the growing need.
Some nursing homes have started adding new residents to help patients overcome their fears. Part Furby and part Gremlin, Paro, who gets its name from the starting sounds of personal robots, is a baby seal that has a soft, furry exterior and reacts with the sounds and motions of a live baby seal, even wiggling when pet. Paro blinks at bright lights and makes yelping sounds if it is held upside down or treated roughly. Loud noises cause it to open its eyes.
Paro has multiple sensors that help it adapt to its surroundings, including tactile, temperature, and auditory sensors. It recognizes the difference between light and dark, and can tell when it is being touched or stroked. It can even tell where in the room someone is who is talking.
Paro responds to positive and negative feedback. For example, it will repeat actions for which it is praised or stroked, and it will try not to repeat actions that cause it to be hit. Over time, Paro will learn to react positively to the sound of its name as well as to words of praise and other oft-repeated words. Response from dementia and Alzheimer’s patients having the opportunity to interact with a pet like Paro has been very positive.
Developed by AIST, Paro was designed to allow patients to have access to animal therapy where it would be logistically difficult to have live pets. Studies have shown that Paro reduces patient stress, stimulates interaction, and improves patient motivation. Additionally, Paro has had success, particularly with dementia and Alzheimer patients, in improving the ability of the patient to socialize. Paro holds the distinction of being named by Guinness World Records as the “World’s Most Therapeutic Robot.” Paro costs approximately $6,000.