Background: Behavioral problems may affect individuals with dementia, increasing the cost and burden of care. Pet therapy has been known to be emotionally beneficial for many years. Robotic pets have been shown to have similar positive effects without the negative aspects of traditional pets. Robotic pet therapy offers an alternative to traditional pet therapy.
Objective: The study rigorously assesses the effectiveness of the PARO robotic pet, an FDA approved biofeedback device, in treating dementia-related symptoms.
Methods: A randomized block design with repeated measurements guided the study. Before and after measures included reliable, valid tools such as: RAID, CSDD, GDS, pulse rate, pulse oximetry, and GSR. Participants interacted with the PARO robotic pet, and the control group received standard activity programs. Five urban secure dementia units comprised the setting.
Results: 61 patients, with 77% females, average 83.4 years in age, were randomized into control and treatment groups. Compared to the control group, RAID, CSDD, GSR, and pulse oximetry were increased in the treatment group, while pulse rate, pain medication, and psychoactive medication use were decreased. The changes in GSR, pulse oximetry, and pulse rate over time were plotted for both groups. The difference between groups was consistent throughout the 12-week study for pulse oximetry and pulse rate, while GSR had several weeks when changes were similar between groups.
Conclusions: Treatment with the PARO robot decreased stress and anxiety in the treatment group and resulted in reductions in the use of psychoactive medications and pain medications in elderly clients with dementia.
Keywords: Animal assisted therapy; biofeedback; dementia; psychology; robotics.