Robot seal 'aids dementia patients'

A robotic seal has helped to improve the quality of life of dementia sufferers, according to a Northumbria University study.

Researchers have claimed that interacting with a robot companion made people with mid to late-stage dementia less anxious and also had a positive influence on their lives.

Academics from the UK, Australia and Germany have been investigating the effect that PARO the robotic harp seal has on dementia patients.

PARO is fitted with artificial intelligence software and sensors that respond to touch and sound - and help it to show emotions like surprise, happiness and anger.

It can also learn its own name and learns to respond to words that its owner uses frequently.

The pilot showed that the robots had a clinically meaningful influence including increased levels of pleasure and also reduced anxiety.

"Our study provides important preliminary support for the idea that robots may present a supplement to activities currently in use and could enhance the life of older adults as therapeutic companions and, in particular, for those with moderate or severe cognitive impairment.

"There is a need for further research, with a larger sample size, and an argument for investing in interventions such as PARO robots which may reduce dementia-related behaviours that make the provision of care challenging as well as costly due to increased use of staff resources and pharmaceutical treatment."

– Professor Glenda Cook, Professor of Nursing at Northumbria University