Fingal Haven hosts trial of Japanese made robotic seal 'Paro' with dementia care residents

HAPPIER: One of the Fingal Haven dementia care residents enjoys some time with 'Paro', a robotic seal made in Japan and on trial in Australia. Picture: Sam Norris

HAPPIER: One of the Fingal Haven dementia care residents enjoys some time with 'Paro', a robotic seal made in Japan and on trial in Australia. Picture: Sam Norris

Japan has been the birthplace of many gadgets and technological advancements.

Take ‘Paro’ the robotic seal for example, the subject of peer-reviewed studies, now on trial at Fingal Haven.

Paro responds to touch, temperature and voice cues, with gentle seal-barking, blinking, eye contact and nuzzling. It even knows its name.

While it might seem bizarre, care coordinator Carole Gorman said people with dementia – often withdrawn and anxious – responded positively to Paro.

“In a word, the response is happiness,” Ms Gorman said.

“They just smile and pat him.”

Research published in the Journal of American Medical Directors Association, built upon Australian studies at the Griffiths Menzies Health Institute, compared the use of Paro to soft toys over a 10 week period.

“We found that residents in the Paro group were significantly more verbally and visually engaged with the Paro that those in the plush toy group, suggesting the robotics were beneficial,” Professor Wendy Moyle said.

“Paro, however, was more specifically more effective than usual routine care in improving residents’ expression of pleasure.”

The technological wizardry doesn’t come cheap. Paro costs $7600 and for that reason is only on trial at Fingal Haven for now.

Ms Gorman said assistance animals like the Delta Dog program were helpful and that Paro was another piece in the puzzle.

“With the Delta Dogs, they might come once a fortnight and the thing is they have to go home at the end of the day,” she said.

“With Paro they can hold onto him. And he’s more affectionate than a cat.”

Ms Gorman said Paro was evidence of a change in care methods for people with dementia.

“The days of just bingo, we’re moving toward these technological advancements,” she said.

Some homes have even adopted virtual reality headsets.

“They come with all these different experiences, like animals, different adventures, quiet reflection, even aquatics themes,” Ms Gorman said.

“But it’s not only technology that’s changing it’s the simple things too. We’ve recently moved back the fences so the residents with dementia have more space to walk around outside while still being safe and secure.

“It’s less and less like a hospital and more like a home.”

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