Professor Wendy Moyle from Griffith University in Australia, Professor Glenda Cook of Northumbria University and researchers from institutions in Germany investigated the effect of interacting with PARO, a robotic harp seal, compared with participation in a reading group.
PARO is fitted with artificial intelligence software and tactile sensors that allow it to respond to touch and sound. It can show emotions such as surprise, happiness and anger, can learn its own name and learns to respond to words its owner uses frequently, Moyle said.
Eighteen participants living in a residential aged care facility in Queensland, Australia, took part in activities with PARO for five weeks and also participated in a control reading group activity for the same period.
Following both trial periods the impact was assessed, using recognized clinical dementia measurements, for how the activities had influenced the participants' quality of life, tendency to wander, level of apathy, levels of depression and anxiety ratings.
Research has already shown interaction with animals can have a beneficial effect on older adults, but they can place residents at risk of infection or injury and create additional duties for nursing staff.
This latest study suggests PARO companions elicit a similar response and could potentially be used in residential settings to help reduce some of the symptoms of dementia such as agitation, aggression, isolation and loneliness.