When will the positive effects of Paro, the robot baby harp seal that is reported to be quite useful in the nursing of the elderly, be considered ‘proven by evidence’ by the Dutch government and/or healthcare policymakers? Interesting question, I think.

I am told that, to some extent, the organizations providing health insurance (such as CZ, Achmea, OHRA, etc.) decide on the issue. Then there is also some kind of ‘Reviewing Committee’ that has a say in it. Still a bit unclear to me, though. Perhaps the ‘Free Market’ has a hand in it as well.

“So,” one might ask, “what exactly are the positive effects of Paro?” And, if one wishes to take it one step further: “How big is the benefit and what does it cost?”. Well, I listened very carefully to the presentation given by Takanori Shibata, the ‘father’ of Paro, at the ‘Robots that Care’ workshop that I co-organized. He had compiled a lot of results, roughly from the last ten years or so, both in the form of statistical data and of case description. 

During Shibata’s talk, I assembled the following list of positive effects and how they were measured:

  • With elderly (and medium aged): Less depression, measured with GDS scores.
  • With elderly: More ‘cheerfulness’, measured by self report using ‘face scales’.
  • With elderly: Decrease of ‘stress’, measured by urinary test and blood test (wit relation to immune system). And elsewhere reported: improvement of ‘mood’ and ‘vigor’.
  • In Alzheimer patients: better EEG results (more stable), possibly caused by higher activation of ‘good’ remaining portion of the brain.
  • More (desirable) communication, between elderly patients, or between patient and nurse.

Paro can also have a positive effect on nurses of the elderly:

  • Decreasing the likelihood of burn-outs, by making elderly care patients easier to work with (in various ways). (unknown measures)
  • Can enhance and/or complement the skills of the nurses, leading to improved job satisfaction. (unknown measures)

There are, however, also quite a few publications by Shibata and others about the results with Paro (here).

Some interesting links to Dutch developments:
Wat kost meer? Een kat of een Paro?
Nederlandse verzorgingstehuizen experimenteren met robotzeehond Paro, geliefd onder demente ouderen
Buddy van oma is een robot

And here is a video that is a fairly good compilation of how Paro achieves it’s positive effects: