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Therapeutic robotic seals win innovation award

27 October 2016

Pictured is Selwyn’s Diversional Therapist, Orquidea Tamayo Mortera, with the ‘colony’ of PARO therapeutic seal robots.

Therapeutic robotic seals win innovation award for The Selwyn Foundation

Charitable trust, The Selwyn Foundation, has won the 2016 New Zealand Aged Care Association/QPS Benchmarking ‘Innovative Delivery’ Award for its use of PARO therapeutic robotic seals in its residential aged care facilities and the proven benefits for residents.

The award was announced at this month’s New Zealand Aged Care Association (NZACA) conference, following a submission and presentation by Selwyn on the positive psychological, physical and social effects for residents when interacting with the seals. Benefits include decreasing depression and loneliness, reducing stress and agitation and restoring a sense of calm, comfort and wellbeing for residents. Sessions with PARO also bring about physiological benefits, such as helping to lower blood pressure, and can improve social interaction and conversation.

PARO is an advanced interactive robot modelled on a baby Canadian Harp seal, which responds to touch and other stimuli in its environment by making soft noises, moving its head and tail and opening its eyes. Designed in Japan, it is the world’s most popular commercial robot for elderly people and is approved in the USA as a health device.

The Selwyn Foundation became the first provider in New Zealand to introduce PARO to its care facilities, following successful trials with residents undertaken by Auckland University in 2013. The research found that rest home residents (who were not significantly cognitively impaired) were less lonely and more socially engaged as a result of their interaction with PARO, than those who did not interact with the seal.

Hilda Johnson-Bogaerts, General Manager of The Selwyn Institute for Ageing and Spirituality, has been involved in the various Auckland University robotics initiatives that have taken place at the Foundation’s retirement villages since 2008 and first raised the prospect of trialling a companion robot as an aid to reduce loneliness in residents. She says:

‘We’re delighted to have won this award, which recognises our cutting-edge work in this area of diversional therapy and the wide range of positive therapeutic outcomes that we’re achieving for residents.

‘For people with mild or advanced dementia who are distressed, withdrawn or lonely, interaction with the companion seals can help reduce their anxiety levels and improve their mood.

The unique appearance of the robot also prompts residents to converse more with caregivers and with each other about what PARO is, what he can do and what he looks like. It therefore stimulates greater social activity and more meaningful conversation, and so residents are less lonely as a result.

Selwyn has 13 PARO robots which are used on a one-to-one basis and in group settings with residents of its care facilities in Auckland, Hamilton and Whangarei, as well as with clients of its dementia day centres.

Hilda Johnson-Bogaerts says: ‘The seals are not a replacement for human contact, but another type of aid that enables us to care for our residents. Whilst it’s unlikely that robots will ever replace personal interaction, our experience shows that there is a place for such assistive technology in aged care.’

The prestigious NZACA/EBOS Healthcare ‘Excellence in Care’ Awards recognise the continuous pursuit of excellence by residential aged care homes and their staff. The ‘Innovative Delivery’ Award recognises exceptional effort by aged care providers to enhance the standard of care they provide to residents through innovation, creativity or redesign of service delivery.

This is the second time that The Selwyn Foundation has won the ‘Innovative Delivery’ Award – it was a recipient in 2010, when it was awarded for the introduction of its ‘At Home at Selwyn’ model of care, (also receiving the supreme award for ‘Overall Excellence in Aged Care’ the same year).

At this year’s awards, the Foundation’s Diversional Therapist at Selwyn Village, Orquidea Tamayo Mortera, was also a finalist for the ‘Legendary Contribution to the Aged Residential Care Sector Award’ for her evidence-based, holistic approach to enriching residents’ lives through meaningful therapies and interventions.

Note to editors:

The purchase of the PARO robots was made possible by a grant from The Charles Rupert Stead Trust.

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