Robotic seal to helping elderly dementia patients at Invercargill rest home

Enliven Southland quality of life co-ordinator Shannon Tokona and nurse Julie Worner with Paro the robotic seal, who is ...
John Hawkins/Stuff

Enliven Southland quality of life co-ordinator Shannon Tokona and nurse Julie Worner with Paro the robotic seal, who is used as therapy for elderly dementia patients.

An Invercargill rest home has enlisted the help of a robotic seal to provide therapy to elderly dementia patients.

Paro the seal is a therapeutic robot baby harp seal, designed to have a calming effect and elicit emotional responses in patients in hospitals and nursing homes.

Paro mimics a real baby harp seal and is highly responsive to touch and sound and interacts with residents and the environment.

Nurse Julie Worner said initial trials with residents at Peacehaven Village had proven hugely positive.

One of the dementia residents they cared for usually sat in her chair with her head down and hands on her lap, Worner said.

"We put Paro on her lap and her natural thing was to look at him and hold him, and she started stroking him."

The resident would not do that with teddy bears or dolls, Worner said.

Another resident who did not talk often, showed a positive response soon after staff placed the seal on her lap.

Enliven Southland quality of life co-ordinator Shannon Tokona said Paro could sense light and dark, touch, sound and heat.

"For a lot of people with dementia, they can't seek out the sensory things that they're needing themselves, so with Paro it opens up windows for them."

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Presbyterian Support Southland marketing and communications manager Shelley Erskine said Enliven Southland staff heard about Paro from the Selwyn Foundation in Auckland, which was using the robots with their dementia patients. i

"There's been quite a bit of research done on them and the benefits that he can provide for residents ... is just quite incredible."

Paro was similar to a pet but did not need to be fed or cared for like a pet and would not affect patients with allergies, Erskine said.

Paro's batteries last for about five hours and he was very intelligent, she said.

He could learn to respond a name when called and could also recognise that if he moved in way that upset a resident and was hit, he would not make the same move again, Erskine said.

Enliven Southland is the only aged-care provider in the South Island to own one of the seals after it received funding from the WD Bickley Trust and Stewart Family Trust, she said.

The robot cost about $8500.


 - Stuff


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