1. ITV Report

Robotic seal helps dementia patients

A robotic seal is being used to help dementia patients Photo: University of Brighton

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.

Dr Penny Dodds is leading the research Credit: University of Brighton

It is similar to pet therapy but with real animals and pets there is a hygiene issue and a remote risk of the animal biting or chasing. Paro always behaves, has rechargeable batteries, is always available, and will last about 12 years.

The most important aspect is the difference Paro makes to a patient's quality of life. We have seen Paro helping relax a patient when they have become upset and distressed. Maintaining calmness makes life more pleasant for the patient and for staff, and it can avoid the need to use medication, so there is also a financial saving.

– Dr Penny Dodds, Nurse Lecturer Practitioner with the University of Brighton's School of Health Sciences