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Robotic baby seal provides therapy to dementia patients
A robotic baby harp seal is helping researchers at the University of Manitoba better understand how to treat elderly patients suffering from dementia.
PARO is a social assistive robot that was designed by engineers in Japan. It is used to provide patients with the benefits of animal therapy in situations where live animals might not be practical, such as in care homes.
The U of M researchers have spent nearly five years studying the relationship between the robotic seal and elderly patients with dementia at Deer Lodge Centre.
"Deer Lodge Centre bought two of them on a trial to see how they could possibly be used in their clinical area, and we’ve been doing research with them for the last five years to figure out how they could be used," said Dr. Elaine Mordoch, a nurse researcher at the university.
"Because there are so many people who are developing dementia now, people in the health care industry and research are always looking for innovative ways to try and reach this population and improve their quality of life."
Mordoch said researchers have noted that many of the patients involved in the study have responded well to the robotic creature.
"A lot of the time elderly people don’t have a lot of touch contact with other people, and because PARO is tactile and visual they were able to relate to it," she said.
Researchers have also found PARO is able to distract and calm dementia patients when they become agitated, Mordoch said.
"They’re small studies, but there was evidence that yes, (PARO) can be helpful," she said.
Mordoch said one of the most interesting studies the researchers conducted was introducing PARO in a setting with dementia patients and other family members.
"Sometimes it’s difficult for these patients to sustain conversation, and it was interesting because sometimes PARO prompted stories and conversation that perhaps would have not arisen otherwise," she said.
Mordoch is currently conducting a study using PARO to explore and enhance the relationships between children and grandparents or great-grandparents who have dementia.
"We’re trying to talk to these children about what they think and understand about dementia," she said. " One of the things we do is show them a film clip of PARO and ask them if they think something like it could be helpful.
"I’m hoping kids will come up with some great, fun ways of how to use it."
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