PARO the robotic seal featured on the BBC

PARO the sealA robotic baby seal called PARO, currently being used with people with dementia, is set to feature on the BBC’s national news tonight as part of a week of programming looking at artificial intelligence.

BBC health editor, Hugh Pym, spent time with Sussex Partnership’s Dr Penny Dodds, who is leading a joint research project with the University of Brighton to understand the impact of introducing PARO into everyday care of patients with dementia.

PARO costs around £4,000 and was paid for by our charity, Heads On. It has built-in sensors to react to sound and touch. The artificial intelligence allows it to ‘learn’ and respond to names that patients give it and it reacts to being stroked and spoken to. It also wriggles, opens its eyes and makes appealing squeaks.

Existing research shows that PARO lessens stress and anxiety, promotes social interaction, facilitates emotional expression, and improves mood and speech fluency.

Dr Dodds said: “The most important aspect is the difference PARO makes to a patient’s quality of life. We have seen PARO helping relax a person with dementia when they have become upset and distressed. 

“We have also seen how it can help people express themselves verbally and emotionally. Promoting well-being and enhancing the experience of people in ways which help reduce the need for medication is important.”

Dr Dodds’ research intends to explore how to move PARO from the research arena into the range of non-pharmacological interventions within the clinical setting. This involves navigating risk and infection prevention and control requirements; building skills of staff to use PARO to enhance existing care; identifying who may benefit from using PARO; and using PARO sensitively as a way of enhancing care. 

Dr Dodds is working on the project in collaboration with Dr Kathy Martyn from the University of Brighton. Dr Kathy Martyn is leading the development of the research into the Microbiological and Infection Prevention and Control aspects.  

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