Robo-seal pups help patients fight dementia


Fluffy, robot harp seals respond to light and sound, each seal knows its own name and is programmed to show emotions such as happiness or anger. The cuddly computerized companions are being given to patients to nurse and talk to.

"We've found that it reduced agitation, anxiety, improved quality of life and pleasure in people with mid-to-late stage dementia," said Professor Wendy Moyle of Griffith University.

Moyle says they certainly have benefits over living pets because they don't need to be bathed or walked.

Caregiver Chris Byrne says he's already witnessed joyful responses to the new furry friends.

"I've seen people laughing, someone was trying to give it a drink before, talking to it and snuggling up with it, all sorts, it's been very good," said Byrne.

Researchers have tested the robots in small studies involving children with autism and the elderly. It's hoped their calming effect might even replace medication for some patients.

"The robotic animal actually may have a chance to reduce that pharmaceutical use," said Moyle.

About 400 Australian patients will be used in the study, which commences in 2014, making it the largest in the world so far. High tech hugs help humans manage dementia.

"As our current generations get older it's just going to become standard, so we need to get with the times," said Moyle.

Australian researchers were given a million dollars to complete the study. The pet robots were designed in Japan and are priced at around $6,000 each.

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