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.
Existing research shows that PARO lessens stress and anxiety, promotes social interaction, facilitates emotional expression, improves mood and improves speech fluency.
PARO costs around£4,000 and has built-in sensors to react to sound and touch. The artificial intelligence allows it to ‘learn’ and respond to names patients give it and it reacts to being stroked and spoken to. It wriggles, turns to the patient, opens its big eyes and lets out a cute, appealing squeak.
Dr Dodds said: “There are similarities to pet therapy but PARO has the advantage of being more available, does not have the immediate association of a cat or dog and is easier to supervise."
Unlike real pets, PARO always behaves, has rechargeable batteries, is always available – and PARO should last about 12 years.
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.”
Dementia affects some 800,000 people in the UK and the numbers are climbing every year. Dr Dodds, whose father died after suffering from Alzheimers Disease, said: “I’m very impressed with PARO so far. As a robotic device with artificial intelligence it is remarkably engaging and has a strong ‘presence’ – what we need to understand is how to help take positive research findings into everyday care. “
Dr Dodds is working on the project in collaboration with staff at Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and 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.
You can read more about the research.