A study conducted by Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing has found that therapeutic robots — in this case, Paro the robotic seal — can help calm and comfort elderly individuals afflicted with dementia. The study observed 920 instances where Paro provided some type of therapeutic effect for dementia patients, "improving the behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia and reducing the usage of psychotropic medications," said Paro designer Dr. Takanori Shibata.
According to Front Porch’s study, dementia patients who interacted in some way with Paro the robotic seal often experienced a calming effect, easing anxious behaviors observed in the patient. This effect was observed in 60-percent of the patients. As well, interacting with Paro boosted someone’s social behavior by a huge 97-percent among isolated patients.
Finally, 79-percent of the lethargic patients who were presented with Paro became and remained alert, experiencing an increase in appetite, mood, and social behaviors. These results are promising, indicating that robotic therapy "pets" and companions could be a viable way to comfort the elderly and dementia patients, likewise increasing their health by boosting overall morale.
According to its website, Paro has five different types of sensors: temperature, touch, light, audition, and posture. With these, the robot is able to sense things about its environment and interact in appropriate ways — Paro can feel when he is being petted, and can tell how he is positioned.
As well, Paro can respond to praise and to its name, the latter of which can be changed. The robot learns to react in a way that is pleasing to the owner — one example given by its creator is being petted. If you pet Paro, it will remember what it did leading up to that and will repeat doing it, encouraging further petting.
Paro is designed for therapeutic uses, but it’s not the only robot animal of its kind. This past November, Hasbro introduced the first of its then-new Joy For All line of robotic companions, each of these being tailored toward the elderly. As with Paro, these robotic companions come with sensors and a level of intelligence that enables them to interact with their owner, responding to touch and more in realistic ways. Those robotic pets are priced at $99.99 USD.