Robotic Seal Named Paro – A Friend to Elderly
Paro is a robotic baby harp seal and is one of what is being called a "Mental Commitment Robot." Beginning in 2009, more and more of these cute little robots will begin being introduced into retirement and assisted living communities in the United States with hopes that those residents with dementia or depression-related symptoms might enjoy the positive benefits often associated with pet companionship. These new robots are designed with the intent of providing three specific effects: 1) social effects – that communication among patients and their caregivers might improve; 2) psychological – relaxation and motivation; and 3) physiological – vital signs would improve due to reduction in stress levels.
Elderly in Retirement Communities React to Paro
The positive effects of pet therapy on the elderly has received lots of attention and has become accepted as a way to help senior citizens cope with illness and loneliness. Paro has been tested in nursing homes and hospitals in Japan, Sweden, France, Italy, and the United States. The reaction, both physiologically and psychologically, has been positive. Patients who had been withdrawn were starting to talk more to Paro and to others, and further testing showed decreased stress levels when time was spent with the furry robo-Seal.
How About a Dozen for Every Retirement Community?
Not so fast. Paro is not just a cute little seal pup stuffed animal with a clunky robot inside. The Paro being brought to market today is an 8th generation design that originated by the Japanese company, AIST. That’s years of research and development, and because of the advancements made in the newest release retirement communities or any other person wanting to own a Paro of their own can expect to pay in the neighborhood of $5,000-$6,000 dollars. The cost may eventually go down, but those hoping to adopt in early ’09 should expect to pay at or near full retail.
Real Pet vs. Robotic – Different & Same
Pet ownership can become difficult for residents of retirement communities or for senior citizens living alone. Dogs need to be walked frequently and may become afraid of other residents or other pets and may even become aggressive. Cats need to have their litter boxes changed frequently and leave hurtful scratches on owner or others. All animals need to be fed and have fresh water available. These things become troublesome for the elderly having trouble with memory or physical complaints.
What makes Paro so realistic is that she has five different kinds of sensors: 1) tactile – she can feel when she is being petted, caressed, or mistreated; 2) light – she can sense whether it is light or dark which may cause her to nap or awaken; 3) audition – she recognizes when someone calls her name or greets or praises her, as well as the direction of the voice and reacts accordingly; 4) temperature; & 5) posture – she knows when she is being held upright. The robotic seal can move its head multi-directionally, blinks its eyes and makes emotional facial expressions, imitates the voice of a real baby seal, can remember interactions and make adaptions in its reaction, will learn to respond to a new name after a short while, and can move its flippers.
The fur on Paro’s is soft and fluffy like that of a real seal pup, is anti-bacterial, soil resistant, and has an electromagnetic shield which makes it safe for seniors wearing pacemakers. Paro can understand and respond to both English and Japanese and comes with internal rechargeable batteries and a pink or yellow pacifier charger.
These little gals aren’t able to follow you around or come on command, but they have proven to be a viable pet alternative, especially for seniors living alone or in retirement communities where having a real pet may not be possible. Paro is also great for children confined with some type of illness.
To have a look at some short videos about Paro, visit the Paro Robotics website. Vinson Hall, a retirement community in Virginia, is one of the first U.S. retirement communities to bring a Paro into their retirement home. You may want to visit their website and see what their residents and staff have to say.