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11 Feb 2016

The Selwyn Foundation expands its ‘colony’ of therapeutic robotic seals for aged care

Charitable trust, The Selwyn Foundation, has welcomed some new arrivals to its aged care communities – in the form of nine robotic companion seals!  

The new additions are part of the Foundation’s growing ‘colony’ of the interactive PARO healthbots, which are benefitting residents and clients of the Foundation’s dementia units, dementia day services, rest homes and hospitals. Modelled on a baby Canadian Harp seal, the PARO robot responds to touch and other stimuli in its environment by making soft noises, moving its head and tail and opening its eyes. Designed by acclaimed developer of healthcare robotics, Dr Takanori Shibata of the Japanese Government’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, it's the world’s most popular commercial robot for elderly people. 

The Selwyn Foundation became the first aged care services provider to purchase therapeutic robots for use in New Zealand, when it took delivery of four PAROs in 2014, following successful trials with rest home residents at its Selwyn Heights retirement village. The research found that residents (who were not significantly cognitively impaired) were less lonely and more inclined to talk to caregivers and others as a result of their interaction with the robot.    

A second trial has recently been conducted by researchers in psychological medicine at the University of Auckland, this time with people with advanced dementia attending the Foundation’s dementia day centres. The trial investigated whether PARO would be useful for people with dementia and their caregivers in the day care environment and at home, and the implications for helping people in the community cope with dementia. Results of the study will be available in August 2016.

Mr Garry Smith, CEO of The Selwyn Foundation, comments:

“Our experience shows that PARO helps stimulate activity and social engagement in residents and also brings physiological benefits, such as helping to lower blood pressure." 

“Whilst it’s unlikely that robots will ever replace personal care or even pet animals in residential care facilities, there is a place for such assistive technology in aged care – for example, as an aid to communication, health monitoring and in ensuring the ongoing wellbeing of older people living alone.” 

Pictured is Selwyn’s Diversional Therapist, Orquidea Tamayo Mortera, with the ‘colony’ of PARO therapeutic seal robots.

The nine PARO seals used in the 2015 trial have now found a permanent home at Selwyn, bringing the total number to thirteen. Their increase in availability will enable residents across the Foundation’s care facilities in Auckland, Hamilton and Whangarei, as well as guests of Selwyn’s dementia day services, to interact with PARO on a regular basis and therefore benefit from the therapeutic effects that result. 

The Selwyn Foundation is noted for pioneering the use of new technologies in the care of older people, providing they deliver better quality care and are a safe and acceptable option for residents and staff alike. 

The additional PARO healthbots have been purchased through the Foundation’s charitable arm, and the initiative is an exciting outcome of Selwyn’s ongoing programme of investment in innovation.