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Robotic Pets Could Improve Life Quality for Dementia Patients

Update Date: Jun 24, 2013 04:28 PM EDT

The idiom, "A dog is a man's best friend," is an understatement. A recent study published in PLoS ONE reported that people treat their dogs like they are their children. There is a lot invested in this kind of relationship. Other studies have found that the close relationship between a pet and an owner can improve one's overall quality of life. Due to the health benefits of pets, researchers from Australia have created a pilot study evaluating the potentially positive effects of a robotic pet for dementia patients. The study decided to use robotics pets because they do not require an owner to care for them, something that could be difficult to do for dementia patients.

The study, headed by Professor Wendy Moyle from Griffith University and Glenda Cook from Northumbria University as well as researchers from German institutes, set out to investigate the role and effects of PARO, a robotic harp seal. PARO was made with artificial intelligence software and has tactile sensors that help it react to touch and sound. PARO can also exhibit emotions, such as surprise, happiness, and anger. It can respond to words that are used frequently and it can respond to a name.

In this study, the researchers recruited 18 people who were living in a residential aged care facility in Queensland, Australia. The participants were given activities to do with PARO for five weeks, which included a reading group session. The researchers measured the impact of PARO on the participants by using clinical dementia measurements. They studied the effects of the activities on one's quality of life, tendency to wander, level of apathy, depression symptoms and anxiety issues. The researchers found that overall PARO appeared to improve quality of life by lowering anxiety levels and increasing happiness levels.

"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 impairment," Cook said according to Science Daily. The researchers acknowledged the fact that more trials need to be done before robotic animals can be deemed a therapeutic treatment option.

The study was published in the Journal of Gerontological Nursing.

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