A robotic baby seal is being used to help treat dementia patients in Sussex.
"Paro" the seal has been purchased by the University of Brighton to test its effects on patients at a ward in Sussex, and so far the seal pup is proving beneficial to both patients and their families who are seeing smiles and happiness in the faces of their loved ones.
The research is being conducted by Dr Penny Dodds, Nurse Lecturer Practitioner with the University of Brighton's School of Health Sciences. She is also employed by the Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust whose therapists and nurses are using Paro on dementia wards in Worthing.
Paro costs £4,000 and has built-in sensors to react to sound and touch. The artificial intelligence allows it to "learn" and respond to names patients give it. It reacts to being stroked and spoken to.
Its Japanese creater, Takanori Shibata, selected a harp seal because of its benign looks and he designed it to make it obvious even to vulnerable people that Paro is not real but made from synthetic fur and circuits - there are audible robotic noises when it moves its head or flippers.
Dementia affects some 800,000 people in the UK and the numbers are climbing every year.