Paro is a lovable friendly robot who is helpful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s patients and children with autism. Seeming like a pet or funny toy, Paro comes with sensors under is fur that can transmit information to the doctors while the patient is occupied in petting the little robot. Patients with various forms of dementia have shown positive reactions to Paro even if they don’t generally react well to other humans. It’s easier to take vitals with Paro as the patient holds and pets it than for a doctor or nurse to have to get the information from a combative person.
What is Paro?
Paro is a small robot designed in 1998 by Takanori Shibata to improve communication between medical professionals and their uncommunicative patients. The artificial intelligence in this robot is capable of responding to voice and touch and even able to speak with patients and they interact with it. A doctor or nurse can speak through the robot to those who aren’t comfortable talking to real people. As the patient strokes Paro, the sensors transmit pulse rates, temperature, respiration and behavior aspects to the doctor, allowing a calm monitoring rather than a confrontation.
Paro and Patients
By 2040, the World Health Organization estimates there will be 84 million patients with some form of dementia due to the aging population of “Baby Boomers.” Social interaction becomes limited as dementia worsens, but Paro may be a step toward keeping elderly patients interested and able to respond to stimuli. In private homes, Paro would be too expensive, at this point of development, costing about $10,000. each. But nursing facilities and hospitals could afford to have one and as more patients go to care facilities, Paro could be a great advantage for both the patients and medical staff. “The robot would keep track of where the person is actually moving or if they’re lying on the floor in the bathroom, has taken their drugs, has followed their normal routine,” says Alan Mackworth, University of British Columbia. Mackworth is one of the foremost experts on artificial intelligence in Canada. He expects the technology to advance to fill even more monitoring roles for patients.
Increasing numbers of patients could overwhelm the medical professionals both in home and hospital situations. Having a “warm, fuzzy” monitor to keep track of some of those patients will be more important as time goes by. Paro is the first in a long line of user-friendly robots that will improve medical care in the future.