Robotic Animals Soothe Seniors with Alzheimer's

Tim Watt  |  November 7, 2011

More information is released every day about new technologies that can help older adults who have cognitive or memory problems.

At the same time, more studies are proving that animals can be therapeutic to these people. Paro, a robotic seal developed in Japan, answers to both of of these demands.

According to DigInfo News, the robot is modeled on a baby harp seal and displays emotional responses to stimuli in its environment. It is designed to have a positive psychological effect on those who interact with it.

Takanori Shibata, senior research scientist from Paro's development company, AIST, told the news source that the seal remembers being stroked and acts that way in future interactions, gradually learning to develop a personality that its owner enjoys being around.

The seal has proven to have the same benefits as animal therapy in psychological, physiological and social effects on the person. In people with Alzheimer's disease or dementia, the robot has been able to calm them from a state of agitation and caused people with depression to experience positive feelings.

Paro essentially offers the benefits of animal therapy but without any added burden of keeping a pet. Seniors who are unable to regularly feed, water and clean up after a real pet can still reap the benefits from Paro, who also does not bite, scratch or cause allergic reactions, The New York Times reports.

Eileen Oldaker told the news source that she has seen these benefits firsthand with her mother, Millie Lesek, who has dementia. In her mother's times of distress and disorientation, Oldaker found that the seal offers the best type of Alzheimer's care.

"He was very therapeutic for her, and for me too," Oldaker told the news source. "It was nice just to see her enjoying something."

Shibata says that the seal offers an alternative to traditional treatments for agitated patients, such as medications, especially because there are no physical side effects.

"But if such patients have contact with Paro, they settle down almost immediately, smile, and feel good," he told the news outlet. "Sometimes they're able to talk. As such effects can actually be observed, there's no need to use drugs."

The robot has increased in popularity in Japan, Europe and the United States, leaving many to wonder where developers will draw the line when it comes to robots replacing human interactions.  

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