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Robotic seal brings smiles to dementia patients: Study

Paro Therapeutic Robot seal
Source: Paro

Elderly, isolated patients can be hard to reach, especially if they're suffering from dementia.

One study shows that a seal-shaped robot could help.

Researchers discovered that interacting with a therapy robot called Paro had a calming effect on 60 percent of residents who typically displayed anxious behaviors, according to a study released by Front Porch, a nonprofit specializing in retirement communities.

Paro is equipped with several sensors — tactile, light, audition, temperature and posture — that can respond to the user's voice and movement.

The robotic seal increased social behavior in 97 percent of isolated adult residents. It also helped 79 percent of residents who displayed lethargic behavior to remain alert, which positively improved their mood, socialization and appetite.

"Front Porch is exploring creative solutions to address needs for which we currently don't have an easy solution: agitation in the middle of the night, sundowning, engaging withdrawn or isolated residents," said Kari Olson, chief innovation and technology officer of Front Porch, in a statement.

The study utilized Paro, a therapy robot shaped like a harp seal, to survey how interactions with the robot affected patients at seven retirement communities in California over the course of six months. Paro is designed to look like a seal because "people are generally interested in interacting with robots modeled after nonfamiliar animals," according to Front Porch.

"Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing documented 920 instances of Paro intervention and the resulting therapeutic effects on older adults with dementia." said Dr. Takanori Shibata, the designer of PARO, in a statement. "This is the largest quantitative evaluation of Paro, so far, and the outcomes show the benefits of Paro for improving the behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia and reducing the usage of psychotropic medications."