PARO: The robotic therapy seal that benefits so few

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/paro1jpg.jpg.size-custom-crop.1086×0.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]I have a problem with that cute, robotic seal cub PARO.

More accurately, I have a problem with the ethics of the business model of the Japanese company that makes it, Intelligent System Co. Ltd.

PARO started development in 1993 and the first English press release was in 2004 – a year before Telehealth and Telecare Aware started! Since then the indications that PARO is good for people with dementia have been building and building, as Editor Donna most recently highlighted in this item: PARO therapy robot tested, cleared by NHS for — hygiene.

I have no problem believing, as Donna summarised, “the research has shown that it lowers stress and anxiety, promotes social interaction, facilitates emotional expression, and improves mood and speech fluency.”

However, in response to an enquiry last week, it was confirmed to me that neither price or delivery time information is available but that PARO seals continue to be made individually, by hand. This is a huge production bottleneck and cost.

It is entirely proper for a company that produces handmade cars to have high prices and long waiting lists for their rich man’s toys but I am completely at a loss to conjure up any justification to apply that thinking to PARO. (PARO cost $6,400 in 2017.)

I believe that the insistence that PARO continues to be made in this way is an unethical denial of a benefit to millions of people.

Does Intelligent System not have the will or the skill to scale up production and bring down the cost so that every care home or dementia ward could acquire a PARO (or even a ‘PARO lite’) within a few years? If not, they should license it to a company that can.

At least they should stop pretending that PARO is benefiting people with dementia when it reaches so few.

This Telehealth and Telecare Aware Soapbox item is the personal opinion of TTA founder and Editor Emeritus Steve Hards.

PARO therapy robot tested, cleared by NHS for — hygiene

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/PARO.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]PARO, the therapeutic robot seal developed in Japan by Professor Takanori Shibata for socialization use with geriatric dementia patients, is moving closer to being approved for use in the UK. It passed a cleaning and hygiene test conducted over nine months by Dr. Kathy Martyn, principal lecturer in the University’s School of Health Sciences, on a 10-bed dementia ward run by Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. The findings were that PARO was safe within the hospital setting for an acute care dementia unit.

TTA Editors have been covering PARO since 2010 (!) and despite the qualms in certain quarters [TTA 22 June 2010 ], unsurprisingly (to this Editor) the research has shown that it lowers stress and anxiety, promotes social interaction, facilitates emotional expression, and improves mood and speech fluency. Digital Health News (Picture from Toronto Star)

Will Japan’s hard lessons on an aging population include those with dementia?

Japan, with over 30 percent of its population over 60 and with no countervailing trend to stop it, is now facing the scourge of dementia. With a WHO-estimated life expectancy of 84, over 4.6 million Japanese have been diagnosed with it. The Japan Times published an estimate (unfootnoted) that 15 percent of Japan’s over-65 population has dementia to some degree. Will Japan, struggling to implement technology to better manage an aging, shrinking population [TTA 24 Oct], turn out to be a model for Western Europe, the US, and their neighbor China in treating older people with cognitive problems with respect and care –or be a cautionary tale?

Two articles in Canada’s Toronto Star and the Japan Times indicate the struggle and the pressure that dementia has placed on an aging Japanese nation. What makes headlines is an unfortunate 91-year-old man in Obu who wanders onto railway tracks (with the family handed the C$39,000 damage bill), the horrific rundown of pedestrians by a 73-year-old who despite a dementia diagnosis just had his driver’s license renewed, and the violent acts around kaigo jigoku, or “caregiver hell” by both family members and paid carers. This is not readily solvable by robots or Paro seals (although self-driving cars would be one huge help). 

Japan has pioneered innovation for a better quality of life with dementia, which as typical not all of which can translate to a larger country:

  • In 2000, Japan introduced mandatory long-term care insurance, which is paid into starting at age 40. At 65 (or earlier due to disease), you become eligible for a wide range of caring services, with a 10-20 percent service fee attached to discourage overuse. This semi-market-based approached has proven popular with 5.6 million using it in 2013.
  • Dementia daycare, which reportedly is used by 6-7 percent of the over-65 population. Healthy stimulating activities in a local home and small group setting, such as food preparation, art therapy, and storytelling can cost as little as C$10 a day.
  • Dementia search and rescue, which is organized again on a local basis. Community teams of social workers and medical professionals actively look for people with dementia in homes where, for instance, a wife is caring for a husband who is increasingly forgetful, and suggest some alternatives and respite. Sometimes the approach works, sometimes not, but it shows that the community does not forget about the person and, importantly, the caregiver.
  • Short-term stays or respite care (shokibo takino) gives a regular ‘day off’ or a stay of up to 30 days. This also appears to be organized locally.

The Japan Times/Sentaku ‘dementia time bomb’ article is nowhere near as optimistic as the Toronto Star‘s take, advocating instead: (more…)