by Eithne Dodd
PARO, a robotic seal used to provide animal therapy for patients in dementia care, has passed tests that mean it could enter NHS hospitals very soon.
The robot seal has met cleaning and hygiene requirements that allow it to receive medical device status. PARO is used with dementia patients but also to assist people with learning disabilities.
The robot uses artificial intelligence (AI) to learn from its surroundings. It is responsive to touch and speed, so it makes positive sounds when stroked lightly but complains if petted too roughly.
The PARO unit underwent a nine month trial on a hospital ward to prove it could meet the NHS hygiene standards. It’s use in dementia care is classed as a non-pharmacological intervention, used for promoting wellbeing.
Dr Penny Dodds, who is the lead researcher of the project at Brighton University, said: “We’ve shown it can be kept clean.
“It depends on the infection control people within the hospital. All we’re claiming is that one unit in Sussex demonstrated that it meets the NHS infection control standards, we’re not going to claim anything bigger than that.”
Dr Dodds said they have witnessed the positive impact of PARO on dementia patients: “I’ve certainly seen it help people calm down. They can engage with it at their own pace.”
However, it is still unclear whether PARO will ever be used in a hospital.
The introduction of a PARO robot would be a decision for each individual hospital trust or clinical commission group, so it remains unclear which areas PARO may be introduced in.
In a press release, Dr Doug Brown, chief policy and research officer at Alzheimer’s Society, a charity for dementia care and research, said: “It’s really great news that PARO has finally sealed the deal, bringing these robots one step closer to supporting people with dementia.
“With no cure for dementia and no new treatments for the next 15 years, it’s important to develop innovative ways to support the 850,000 people living with dementia today.”
Featured Image by Paul Allais