You could see Paro as a very well-designed $5,000 pet that will never turn on the person holding it, and will never be hurt if its master flies into a rage. It is as happy in one lap as the next, needs no house-training, can be easily washed and will not die. This makes it a much more practical proposition to have in a nursing home or hospital than a live pet. It is used in such homes in Japan, in parts of Europe and in America. As well as simply making people happy—no mean goal—it can act as a source of reassurance and calm. People with Alzheimer’s often suffer from “sundowning”—a distressed urge to wander that comes on towards the end of the afternoon. Mr Shibata has found that a seal in the arms tends to reduce such wandering, which means fewer falls. Experience in Italy, Denmark and America indicates that care homes equipped with Paro need less medication for their residents. Larger trials now under way in Australia should establish whether this and other benefits can be provided simply by a soft toy, or whether Paro’s ability to interact with the world makes a clinical difference.
The Economist (sub required)