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Robotic Pet Therapy Effective in Dementia Patients

The newest member of our animal assisted therapy program is not really a pet at all, but a robot. A therapeutic robot baby harp seal, intended to be very cute and cuddly, is being used with patients diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. “Paro” is soft and lifelike and has tactile sensors. The robotic seal responds to petting by moving its tail and opening and closing its eyes. It also responds to sounds and can learn a name. It can show emotions such as surprise, happiness and anger, and produces sounds similar to a real baby seal.

Paro was developed for therapy to replace real animals when patient interaction with therapy pets might pose a danger to the patient or the pet. Studies since 2008 in Danish nursing homes have found that Paro soothed dementia patients and helped them communicate. The potential impact of Paro became apparent early on with a dementia patient who had not moved her arms or unclenched her hands in months. As the seal was placed into her arms, she stroked the seal and unclenched her fists. Two of the robotic seals are now in service with hospice patients, providing a new and effective therapeutic treatment alternative.

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