Effectiveness of a Social Robot, “Paro,” in a VA Long-Term Care Setting

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Interest in animal assisted interventions (AAI) has grown over the years, but acceptance of AAI by the clinical and research community has been hampered by safety, hygiene, and logistical concerns. Advances in the field of social robotics have provided a promising route to deliver AAI while avoiding these aforementioned obstacles. Although there has been promising initial research on social robotics in older adults, to date there has been no such research conducted with a veteran population. The present pilot study followed 23 veteran residents of a Veterans Affairs (VA) geropsychiatric long-term care facility over the span of approximately a year and a half. It was found that use of Paro, a social robot, resulted in increased observed positive affective and behavioral indicators, with concomitant decreases observed in negative affective and behavioral indicators. The authors concluded that Paro is likely an effective nonpharmacological approach for managing dementia-related mood and behavior problems with veterans in VA long term care facilities. They additionally observed that Paro is best presented to residents who are relatively calm and approachable, as opposed to actively exhibiting behavior or mood problems. Future research directions are discussed in light of both the positive results noted and the inherent limitations of our pilot study.

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