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VA Palo Alto Health Care System


Therapeutic Robot Gives Comfort and Vitality to Elderly Veterans

Patients at VA Menlo Park interact with PARO.

Patients at the VA Menlo Park interact with PARO.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Animals have always been known for their therapeutic benefits, especially within VA, which promotes service and companion dogs for Veterans. However, some patients may not be able to care for an animal but still need some therapeutic outlet. This is where modern technology shines. Modeled after a baby harp seal, an advanced interactive robot called PARO is soft to the touch with artificial white fur and realistic noises, making Veterans in building 360, Community Living Center (CLC) at Menlo Park feel comfortable without the maintenance of a real animal.

"About a year or so ago I was working with a patient at our nursing home [in Livermore] who was in her 80s, had moderate dementia, and chronic pain due to arthritis," said Dr. Geoffrey Lane, a geropsychologist at VA Livermore Division. "She spent a lot of her days screaming and yelling, and the only thing that seemed to quiet her was pet visitation therapy visits from our volunteers."

Unfortunately, the pet therapy visits were not frequent enough, prompting him to acquire a PARO to use with several patients in Livermore. Realizing the benefits, Dr. Lane thought the staff in the dementia unit in Menlo Park could make even better use of the robot. Now four patients on the unit are specifically monitored for their alertness, moods, depression, and agitation while using the robot, allowing the staff to evaluate the therapeutic benefits of PARO.

"Nurses have gotten used to PARO and are realizing the benefits it provides," said Christina Yee, a recreation therapist at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System. "PARO works for certain patients, especially those that particularly like animals."

Without the maintenance of a real animal, the robot has five sensors: tactile, light, audition, temperature, and posture - all helping to perceive people and its environment. The light sensor, for example, helps PARO be active in the daytime and sleep just like the patients, at night. PARO responds to its fur being stroked, recognizes direction of voice, and even responds to certain speech such as its name or praise.

The therapeutic service robot was created in 1993 by Dr. Takanori Shibata, senior research scientist of Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), to provide therapeutic benefits to patients with dementia or Alzheimer's disease. Since introduction to the public in 2001, PARO has met many dignitaries such as President Barack Obama and former Prime Minister Kan of Japan. PARO is the 8th generation of a design used in Japan and Europe since 2003. It has clinically proven to reduce patient stress and stimulate interaction, and was certified by Guinness World Records as the Word's Most Therapeutic Robot.

VA Menlo Park Building 360 CLC serves Veterans with long-term care needs, providing nursing home level short-stay post-hospital sub-acute and rehabilitative care, hospice and palliative care, respite care, and specialized dementia and geropsychiatric care units. For more information regarding nursing home care through VA Palo Alto Health Care System, visit our website, or call (650) 493-5000, x65495.


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