Robotic Baby Seal May Help Behavioral Management for Patients with Dementia: Study

August 30, 2017
Perry Gwen Meyers,

While many post-acute and long-term care (PALTC) facilities use animals such as dogs and cats to help improve mood and manage dementia symptoms in residents, it isn’t always practical to have live animals onsite. A new open-access study in the September issue of JAMDA, “Use of a Robotic Seal as a Therapeutic Tool to Improve Dementia Symptoms: A Cluster-Randomized Controlled Trial,” suggests that a robotic baby seal may help to engage residents with dementia.

Developed in Japan, the robot—called PARO—resembles a baby harp seal. It is light, about the weight of a newborn baby, and it has five sensors that enable it to response to the user and its environment. PARO can move its tail and flippers, open and close its eyes, and make sounds similar to those of a baby seal.

The study involved patients with dementia diagnoses in Australian nursing homes. The patients were randomized into three groups. One group had 15-minute sessions with PARO three times weekly for 10 weeks; the second group had similar sessions with a plush toy; and the third had regular care. At the end of the study, the researchers found that the PARO group was significantly more verbally and visually engaged than the other two groups and had less agitation. Both the PARO and the plush toy group also had improved mood states.

While the study suggests that robotic animals may be an option for residents or facilities who can’t engage with live animals, the authors stress, “PARO should not be used to replace staff time, rather should be used during those inevitable periods when staff are otherwise occupied, or when the individual may benefit from the comfort PARO offers.” The authors also note that when there are limited resources (PARO can cost up to $500 or more), a soft plush toy animal may also be used effectively.

The study was conducted by researchers at the Menzies Health Institute Queensland, School of Applied Psychology, School of Nursing and Midwifery, and Center for Applied Health Economics (Nathan Campus) at Griffith University in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia; the Department of Public Health, College of Health Sciences, Qatar University, Qatar; Queensland University of Technology School of Nursing in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia; University of Exeter, United Kingdom; and University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.

For more information on all of the findings above, and more, visit the JAMDA website. To contact the researchers or JAMDA Editor for interview contact