Wednesday, 9 July 2014

"Paro? Who is Paro?"

This was posted on Twitter recently and a good friend in the UK sent the link to me.  It is a story about "Paro" a baby seal robot. He is being used with dementia patients in nursing homes.
Some years ago there were a great many "new born" baby dolls at the annual Quilt and Craft Fair. We saw grown women wandering around "nursing" these very realistic dolls. They made me, and the friend I was working with, shudder. But, they also serve a purpose. They are used in nursing homes to comfort elderly female dementia patients.
My late uncle had something called "multi-infarct dementia". It was dementia brought on by a series of small strokes - some so small that nobody recognised them for what they were. My uncle went from being a quiet, gentle man with a quirky sense of humour to an aggressive, angry man who had no idea what a joke was. His personality changed almost completely. He was not the same person. In the end his behaviour became so bad that there was no choice except to place him in a nursing home.
He could not understand this. He wanted to go home - although he did not where home was or, indeed, where he was. He hit out at people.
There was just one thing which calmed him. One of the staff had a dog and it was a regular visitor to the nursing home. Let into my uncle's room the dog would, trustingly, walk up to my uncle and wait to be patted. It always got those pats. My uncle's breathing would slow. He would actually smile. He would run his hands slowly over the dog's coat and murmur to it. We didn't understand what he was saying but the dog seemed to sense it and sense my uncle's need. My uncle was never violent or angry when the dog was there.
I don't think my uncle would have reacted to Paro at all. In his own way my uncle still understood what was real and what was not real. In his own way he understood his own behaviour was not normal.
But, I think Paro has a place in the lives of some people. It seems to provide something which is missing in the lives of many dementia patients even though it is provided in an artificial way. I think Paro tells us all something very important. We need to have something which responds to us. We need to be needed.

1 comment:

Cathy said...

Re robotics being used in place of staff at homes for old people: the idea appalls me, but for a younger generation who are simply used to having their most important relationships with machines - phones and computers etc - it would just seem normal. Have you seen the movie 'Her' which is about this. So one can only assume that even as old people now are happily enough accepting the companionship of robots, it won't be too long before it is the preferred option, not just something to save money and keep people unemployed.