“Is he alive?” asked Wolan, 94, who perked up in her wheelchair after the robot opened its big black eyes. “He’s so soft; he’s wonderful.”
Dementia Patients Respond to Interaction With Robotic Pet Seal
Tague, caretaker of the robot for the hospice agency, said the robot’s name means “companion” in the Inuit language. The Paro robots coo, cry, blink and move parts of their bodies. They retail for about $6,000 apiece.
“The interactions (the patients have with the robot) are phenomenal,” said Tague. “We’ve had residents who haven’t spoken in over a year suddenly interact with him. For example, they would talk about their former pets, farms they once lived on and animals they used to care for.”
Tague said the robot is a substitution for animal therapy, which experts believe is a good way to elicit a response from dementia patients.
“(Pikatti) is a non-threatening animal, that’s why he is a seal,” said Tague. “Some people don’t like dogs or cats, but a baby seal poses less of a threat to them.”
Tague said some dementia patients respond and interact better with animals than people.
“The disease causes some patients to be suspicious of people, such as thinking someone is stealing from them,” Tague said. “Some may experience delusions at times. A baby seal, for example, is non-threatening, so they feel more comfortable interacting with it.”
The eighth-generation robot has been in use in Japan and throughout Europe since 2003, according to Christine Hsu, manager at Paro Robots U.S., in Itasca.
Hsu said about 1,500 robots are in use in Japan and Europe. Hsu said the company has been marketing the robot in the United States for about 18 months.
“Not only does the robot help dementia patients,” she said, “but it also helps caregivers because it brings down the stress level for a patient.”
She said the robot is also used to treat children with autism.
Hsu said the company rents out the robot for $200 a month. She added that the robot is expensive because it is entirely handmade. Passages officials said they are renting the robot.
The robot is covered with artificial antibiotic fur and has dual processors that control proprietary software for its behavior as well as voice recognition systems. The robot recognizes light, sound, temperature and touch, and over time develops its own character, according to Hsu.
Benjamin Friedman, administrator at the Berkshire Nursing & Rehabilitation home in Forest Park, said Passages officials brought the robot to the nursing home twice this year.
“It provides residents with unique stimulation that enables them to articulate feelings,” said Friedman. “We had one resident who doesn’t speak begin to utter words. It was incredible to observe.”
Friedman said he has also noticed residents becoming more nurturing.
“These are patients that are always being nurtured, but the robot allows them a unique opportunity to be the nurturer to some degree,” he said. “One woman started talking about her old boyfriend. It must have rekindled feelings of warmth for her from a past relationship. It was amazing to hear her say that.”