Robots put their seal on dementia advance

Proving the benefits and cost-effectiveness of animal robots in the treatment of dementia is the focus of a Griffith research study.

Previous work by Professor Wendy Moyle and her team at the Griffith Health Institute last year, found that contact with a robotic seal “Paro” created many positive benefits for
elderly dementia patients, including lowered anxiety and improvements in mood.

Developed by Japanese engineers and already commercially used in several countries, the Paro – which costs around $5000 – can respond to touch, light, voice and temperature. It
also has posture sensors, with which it can perceive people and its environment. Now aiming for further research funding, Professor Moyle plans to conduct a large-scale study which will provide a thorough evaluation of the Paro’s benefits.

Around 400 participants across approximately 30 nursing homes will be asked to take part, she said.

Fantastic treatment benefits

“The Paro has some fantastic benefits for the treatment of dementia patients but so far we do not have a large-scale quantitative evaluation that examines the effect of the Paro on an
individual’s emotional state and its cost benefit in reducing pharmacological costs. This is what we will be trying to achieve in this study, if we are successful in achieving funding.

“With an extended research team, we will be assessing emotional states in participants such as agitation, using measures including video observation and assessment of physiological responses.

“The statistical evidence that we collect will be used to examine the cost effectiveness of the Paro within care facilities versus the costs of pharmaceutical treatment for people with dementia.

“If for example, we are able to show that we can reduce psychotropic medication to a patient by 10 per cent by using the Paro or alternatively show that they can stay at home for longer without admission to a care facility, then that would be a fantastic result with direct cost benefits.”

Proving its worth to the Australian market

Professor Takanori Shibata, one of the Japanese research scientists behind the Paro, said that he is confident the robot will prove its worth to the Australian market.

“The Paro is gradually gaining more acceptance as a treatment for dementia around the world. In 2009, it was certified by the Federal Drug Administration in the US as a medical device and we are hopeful of similar success to come in Australia.”

Photo shows Professor Wendy Moyle (Griffith Health Institute) with Nancy Greenlees, a resident of Wesley Mission Brisbane’s Sinnamon Village aged care community and Professor Takanori Shibata.