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Robotics and dementia: Paro, the baby seal

Robotics and dementia: Paro, the baby seal

Population ageing in Europe that we are experiencing, and that is expected to continue in the next years, supposes also an increase of illnesses related to dementia. Many reports and investigations prove that fact, like for instance the analysis done by the Dementia Committee of the G8 or the investigations presented by the Alzheimer’s Society in September of 2014.

Residents with dementia are a concern for Care Homes, since they require special therapies to have a better daily life, and it is more difficult that they have a good quality of life. In order to face this fact, have been developed numerous investigations and new therapies. Some of them point that it would be beneficial for residents the possibility to have a pet. One of these investigations made by Stryker-Gordon, Bell and Anderson, made in 284 Care Homes of Minnesota, showed that pets can increase considerably the quality of life of residents. In Catalonia we have another case made by the Care Home “Parc Serentill”, managed by the group Fundació Vallparadís, that made a report of its residents and they found that the experience had been very positive for them.

However, applying therapies with pets results a task quite difficult for Care Homes. But once again, technology helps to find an alternative: Paro, the baby seal.

paro-foca

This robot that seems to be a baby seal, with some artificial intelligence, was developed by the Japanese Takanori Shibata. The creator chose a seal because he thought that usually human beings we are not familiar with seals, what makes it more difficult that its appearance or skills can disappoint us.

Paro is able to learn and remember its own name, and answer with pleasant movements to the strokes. Besides, the weight is 3 kg, so the feeling when you have it moving its flippers make it very real.

Nowadays, there are 3.000 Paros in the world, most of them in Japan and 10 in UK where are being implemented in specialized units with residents with dementia in the NHS.

Numerous reports have demonstrated that the use of Paro has mitigated certain behaviors of residents with dementia, which therapy, before Paro, it was based on medicines. Besides, despite the fact Paro is not effective 100% of cases, like creators indicate, what is sure is that there are no side effects.

This is the challenge that staff had to face in “The Grange”, one of the specialized units with residents with dementia in the British NHS.

One of the careers explains how she used to use Paro to encourage the social behavior among the residents, what worked to increase the social interaction among them and calm the anguish of some of the residents. According to this career, some residents used to pretend that Paro was real, and used to make jokes like “hey Paro, don’t pee on my leg”, or “Paro just farted” what usually make residents laugh and have a good time. In this way, it is easier to make a more relaxing atmosphere.

For this career Paro is with no doubt a colleague-robot with great benefits since make feel some of the residents not dependent but responsible of something and this is good for their self-esteem.

paro

However this kind of initiatives make also controversy. This is the case of Amanda Sharkey, professor of the Informatics Science Department of the University of Sheffield. She defends that it is not good to start a dynamic where robots substitute human care services. Robots may be a complement for them.

So having Paro as a complement or tool that can be used by Care Home Staff in therapies, not like substitutes of them, seems that the experience with Paro so far is completely positive.

 

 

Sources: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jul/08/paro-robot-seal-dementia-patients-nhs-japan

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