A study by Griffith University in Australia, following previous research by Professor Wendy Moyle, shows that a robotic plush seal called ‘Paro’ may be helpful to people suffering from dementia.

Paro has a variety of capabilities, including the ability to detect and respond to human speech and actions. Not only is Paro responsive to voice, touch, and temperature, but it even knows its own name and can make eye contact. As a therapeutic and stimulative tool, the robotic seal provides multiple benefits.

According to Parorobots.com, “Paro has five kinds of sensors: tactile, light, audition, temperature, and posture sensors, with which it can perceive people and its environment. With the light sensor, Paro can recognize light and dark. He feels being stroked and beaten by tactile sensor, or being held by the posture sensor. Paro can also recognize the direction of voice and words such as its name, greetings, and praise with its audio sensor.”

Although Paro was created in Japan and has been used there for some years, it is now being tested in facilities in Europe and just recently became available in the United States. The high-tech Paro was used in a 10-week study alongside a regular plush toy version in a care facility, Mercy Place Abbotsford, to monitor the potential benefits experienced by residents. The results were positive.

“We found that residents in the Paro group were significantly more verbally and visually engaged with the Paro than those in the plush toy group, suggesting that the robotics were beneficial,” said Professor Moyle.

Paro was able to help reduce residents’ anxiety and frustration, among other things.

Why a seal, though?

Creator of Paro, Takanori Shibata, explains it’s because people don’t normally have unpleasant memories of seals, and at the same time, will not be fooled into thinking it is a real animal they are engaging with.

The use of robotic animals for this sort of care is still in an experimental stage, however, and Dr. Moyle advises that “a robotic animal such as Paro should not be used to replace staff time, but rather be used during those inevitable periods when staff are otherwise preoccupied or when the individual may benefit from comfort and stimulation.”

Paro is expanding throughout the world, but as a rather costly supplement at $6,000, it will be some time before it is made available everywhere.

Although Paro cannot replace genuine, real-life interaction, it is an innovative supplement for people in care facilities. The interaction provides cognitive stimulation and therapeutic assistance, and as it becomes more widely used, more people will be able to enjoy the benefits of the robotic companion.