Japanese Robotic Seal Provides Therapy to Seniors

Service animals have become a major part of therapy for those who suffer from anxiety, depression, or behavioral issues, but in 2016, robotic service animals are breaking into mainstream therapy. One example is an incredibly adorable robotic seal that is named PARO, that is currently being used in Seattle as a form of therapy for senior citizens. PARO, the robotic harp seal, was developed in 1998 by Dr. Takanori Shibata of Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, and responds to movement, voice, and touch. Dr. Takanori made a few observations about how facilities like the Seattle Keiro Care Center utilize the fluffy robot. “Interaction with PARO motivates people and improves their mood, and also a lot of people improve depression, anxiety, pains, sleep, and loneliness,” said Dr. Takanori. One patient, Yone, views PARO as an upgrade from the toys that she loved as a child. “This is so much different than a regular toy or even a stuffed animal because it responds,” said Yone. “Lots of people become happier with PARO, and also they have a smile and some people stroke PARO and talk to PARO; and also the therapist can communicate with them very easily,” Dr. Takanori said. Dr. Shibata believes that PARO benefits seniors by keeping them active and alert while interacting with the seal during the day, which helps them sleep better at night. “It is always warm and soft, fuzzy, everything that makes a person feel good,” says Yone. Another benefit of PARO that Dr. Shibata mentioned was PARO’s ability to reduce the need for psychotropic drugs, which can have adverse side effects for the user. Additionally, licensed professional counselors have been utilizing PARO successfully in behavioral therapy for children autism, as well.

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