Robo-pets can improve quality of life for dementia sufferers
28 June 2013
Interaction with a robotic companion can help
people with mid to late stage dementia become less anxious
and also have a positive influence on their quality of life,
according to new research.
The pilot study, a collaboration led by Professor Wendy Moyle
from Griffith University, Australia and involving Northumbria
University’s Professor Glenda Cook and researchers from institutions
in Germany, investigated the effect of interacting with PARO — a
robotic harp seal — compared with participation in a reading group.
The study built on Professor Cook’s previous ethnographic work
carried out in care homes in North East England.
PARO is fitted with artificial intelligence software and tactile
sensors that allow it to respond to touch and sound. It can show
emotions such as surprise, happiness and anger, can learn its own
name and learns to respond to words that its owner uses frequently.
Eighteen participants, living in a residential aged care facility
in Queensland, Australia, took part in activities with PARO for five
weeks and also participated in a control reading group activity for
the same period. Following both trial periods the impact was
assessed, using recognised clinical dementia measurements, for how
the activities had influenced the participants’ quality of life,
tendency to wander, level of apathy, levels of depression and
The findings indicated that the robots had a positive, clinically
meaningful influence on quality of life, increased levels of
pleasure and also reduced displays of anxiety.
Research has already shown that interaction with animals can have
a beneficial effect on older adults, increasing their social
behaviour and verbal interaction and decreasing feelings of
loneliness. However, the presence of animals in residential care
home settings can place residents at risk of infection or injury and
create additional duties for nursing staff.
This latest study suggests that PARO companions elicit a similar
response and could potentially be used in residential settings to
help reduce some of the symptoms — such as agitation, aggression,
isolation and loneliness — of dementia.
Prof Glenda Cook with PARO
Prof Cook, Professor of Nursing at Northumbria University, said:
“Our study provides important preliminary support for the idea that
robots may present a supplement to activities currently in use and
could enhance the life of older adults as therapeutic companions
and, in particular, for those with moderate or severe cognitive
“There is a need for further research, with a larger sample size,
and an argument for investing in interventions such as PARO robots
which may reduce dementia-related behaviours that make the provision
of care challenging as well as costly due to increased use of staff
resources and pharmaceutical treatment.”
The researchers of the pilot study have identified the need to
undertake a larger trial in order to increase the data available.
Future studies will also compare the effect of the robot companions
with live animals.