Robot seal proves good therapy for nursing home residents

Staff at an Oxfordshire nursing home say the lifelike robot has a positive effect on residents, offering the benefits of animal therapy without the risks
Robot seal

A therapeutic robot seal is having a positive effect on residents at a nursing home in Oxfordshire, according to staff.

‘Paro’ is a £5,000 advanced interactive robot with five kinds of sensors, which allow it to perceive people and its environment.

The furry robot reacts to light and touch, such as stroking or holding, by moving its head and legs and making sounds like a baby harp seal – offering the benefits of animal therapy without the potential health and infection risks.

For 3 months, residents at Longlands Care Home in Blackbird Leys, an Orders of St John Care Trust (OSJCT) nursing home, have been getting to know Paro as part of a study by the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing.

‘Like holding a grandchild’

‘In just a few weeks we have seen great changes in some of our residents,’ said OSJCT principal care consultant Victoria Elliot.

‘When residents interact with Paro, their demeanour changes – it is compelling and I can only describe it as being akin to the reaction that holding a grandchild would have.

‘One of our residents who prefers to stay in her room says that seeing Paro makes her day and her life worth living – perhaps most importantly, she says that Paro makes her feel wanted.’

Developed by a Japanese company, the seal was introduced to the home by anthropology master’s student Aggy Petersen, who is exploring the effects of using a therapeutic robot in a care setting.

Encouraging effects

‘The study is still in its infancy and we have already observed some encouraging effects on the social interaction of residents at the care home,’ said Ms Peterson.

‘Paro’ the robot seal has been interacting with residents at the nursing home for 3 months, as part of a study.
Picture: The Orders of St John Care Trust.

One resident, Freda Harris, 88, said: ‘I know he is made to react to people if they react to him, but I do love him and he has helped me a great deal.’

Paro will leave the home at the end of November and OSJCT is investigating the feasibility of buying a therapeutic robot to replace the seal-sized hole that will be left.

This is not the first time the robot has enjoyed success in a care setting in the UK. In 2015, the University of Brighton bought a seal robot to test its effects on patients living with dementia and learning disabilities.

The research, led by nurse lecturer practitioner Penny Dodds, found that Paro helps patients calm down and relax when they become upset or distressed.