30 October 2014
‘Seal’ of approval for healthbots from The Selwyn Foundation: Retirement village and aged care operator purchases four for care facilities
One of the world’s most acclaimed robot developers, Dr Takanori Shibata, together with retirement village and aged care operator - The Selwyn Foundation - will welcome companion healthbots to Auckland on Friday, 31 October, when the Foundation becomes the first provider of services for elderly people in New Zealand to purchase four of Dr Shibata’s “ninth generation” PARO robots.
PARO is the world’s most popular commercial robot for elderly people. It takes the form of a cute, fluffy white baby Canadian harp seal that responds to touch by making soft noises, moving its head and tail and opening its eyes.
Dr Takanori Shibata - PARO’s inventor - is a leading international exponent and developer of robotics in healthcare. Dr Shibata, from the Japanese Government’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, will be on hand when The Selwyn Foundation takes delivery of its four brand new PARO robots on Friday.
The Selwyn Foundation is the first aged care provider to purchase therapeutic robots for use in New Zealand, at a cost of nearly $27,000, following trials using PARO with rest home residents at its Selwyn Heights retirement village in 2013. The research was the first randomised controlled trial (a gold standard in scientific method) which found that rest home residents who had sessions with PARO were less lonely and more engaged than those who did not interact with the seal.
The Selwyn Heights’ study was published in the acclaimed Journal of American Medical Directors Association in 2013, and received attention internationally.
“A key finding was that our residents in the study, who are not significantly cognitively impaired, were more inclined to talk to caregivers and others as a result of their interaction with PARO,” says Mr Garry Smith, CEO of The Selwyn Foundation. “They simply loved having PARO around. We’re now acting on those findings and giving our residents the opportunity to benefit from PARO in the long-term.”
Dr Elizabeth Broadbent - a senior lecturer in psychological medicine at the University of Auckland, who oversaw the trials using PARO at Selwyn - has just returned from presenting a paper on the use of robotics in an aged care setting at the International Conference of Social Robotics, held in Sydney 27-29 October. With the purchase of four of the companion healthbots to be introduced into The Selwyn Foundation’s dementia units, Dr Broadbent’s team will conduct a second randomised trial – this time with people with advanced dementia.
“The next trial will investigate whether PARO is useful for people with dementia and their caregivers in the day-care environment and at home. This may have implications for helping people in the community cope with dementia,” she says.
Mr Smith comments: “We don’t believe robots will ever replace personal care, or even pet animals in residential care facilities. Our experience shows, though, that PARO does help stimulate activity in residents and also brings physiological benefits, such as helping to lower blood pressure. PARO is just fun for them. There is a place for robots in the future of healthcare, and in ensuring the on-going wellbeing of residents.”
Mr Smith said The Selwyn Foundation had also previously undertaken trials using a service-type robot, which had been developed to carry out such functions as prompting residents who were more independent to take their medication - and alerting the on-site nurse if they failed to do so. These robots can also record heart rate and blood pressure, for example, as well as provide entertainment and stimulation through music videos, mental agility games and facilitating Skype calls to family and friends.
“The service robot is also of interest to us in the future. But our main focus for the moment is on less independent residents in rest homes, hospitals and dementia units, using companion robots which are more ‘sociable’,” says Mr Smith.
The Selwyn Foundation is a New Zealand-owned independent charitable trust, providing residential care (rest homes, hospitals and dementia care), retirement living and community services for older people, and owns or manages a total of nine retirement villages across the upper North Island. As a not-for-profit organisation, the Foundation reinvests any financial surpluses into the provision of additional facilities and charitable activities aimed at helping the aged.
The purchase of the four PARO robots has been made possible by a grant from The Charles Rupert Stead Trust.