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Oxford nursing home latest to test ‘seal therapy’

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Residents at a nursing home in Oxfordshire have given positive feedback on a robot seal used during a study into providing animal therapy without the normally associated infection risks.

For the last three months, residents at Longlands Care Home in Blackbird Leys have been interacting with “Paro”, a therapeutic robotic harp seal, as part of research by Oxford University.

“We have seen great changes in some of our residents”

Victoria Elliott

Paro is an advanced interactive robot, which offers all of the benefits of animal therapy without posing any health or infection risks.

The technology was developed by a Japanese company and, by interacting with people, responds as if it was alive, moving its head and legs, and making sounds just like a real baby harp seal.

As reported by Nursing Times last year, a similar robot was purchased by the University of Brighton to test its effects on hospital patients at Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

The £5,000 robot uses sensors to perceive people and its environment, reacting to light and dark, and whether it is being stroked or held by moving its head and legs and making sounds.

It was introduced to the home, which is run by the Orders of St John Care Trust, by anthropology MSc student Aggy Petersen, who is studying the impact of a therapeutic robot in a care setting.

“The study is still in its infancy and we have already observed some encouraging effects on the social interaction of residents at the care home,” she said.

The introduction of Paro has had a number of benefit to residents, according to Victoria Elliot, principal care consultant at the Orders of St John.

Orders of St John Care Trust

Oxford nursing home latest to test ‘seal therapy’

Paro with Dulce Godfrey

She said: “In just a few weeks, we have seen great changes in some of our residents. When residents interact with Paro, their whole demeanour changes.

“It is very compelling and I can only describe it as being akin to the reaction that holding a grandchild would have,” she said.

“For instance, one of our residents who prefers to stay in her room, says seeing Paro makes her day and her life worth living. Perhaps most importantly, she says it makes her feel wanted,” she added.

The device will leave the home at the end of November, though the trust said it was investigating the feasibility of purchasing its own therapeutic robot, following the success of the current initiative.

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