Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Robot seal 'aids dementia patients'

Professor Glenda Cook of Northumbria University with the robotic harp seal

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

Researchers have claimed that interacting with a therapeutic 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 tactile sensors that allow it to respond to touch and sound as well as show emotions such as surprise, happiness and anger.

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

The pilot, on 18 participants in Australia, showed that the robots had a clinically meaningful influence including increased levels of pleasure and also reduced anxiety.

Professor Glenda Cook, Professor of Nursing at Northumbria University, said: "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."

The researchers have also identified the need to undertake a larger trial in order to increase the data available as well as compare the effect of the robot companions with live animals.

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