Researchers have found that robot pets can help people feel better, especially those with late stage dementia. The Paro therapeutic robot has been approved by the FDA as a medical device, and over 30 published papers show its impact on both individual wellbeing and social interaction within care homes.
Paro is powered by two 32-bit processors, three microphones, 12 tactile sensors under its fur, touch-sensitive whiskers and motors that silently move its parts. These components allow Paro to recognize voices, track motion, and “remember” behaviours that elicit positive responses from patients.
The interaction has been shown to be key to the therapeutic effect, compared to, for example, a toy, or a ‘breathing cat’ – which are £25 , compare to Paro’s $6,000. Fujitsu is developing a reactive teddy for this purpose.
There is some concern that using robot animals is manipulative, and can replace interaction with people: one resident whispered to the robot in her lap: “I know you’re not real, but somehow, I don’t know, I love you.”
Real animals have been proven to improve wellbeing, and Pets as Therapy delivers half-a-million patient visits a year with real animals. Dementia Dog is also researching the use of dogs specifically trained to help people with dementia.