I’ve just read an article, Robot Brings Dementia Patients Out of their Shells, published in the Chicago Tribune on May 18, 2011, by Joseph Ruzich. He reports that some nursing and rehabilitation centers are “using Paro robots from Japan in therapeutic activities with dementia patients.” The author describes how the robots inspire responses and interactions, stimulating individuals who are suffering from dementia, many of whom have difficulty socializing at all. Some agitated dementia patients can even be calmed down when the furry objects are put into their arms. The handmade robots, produced in Japan, look like baby harp seals, make baby seal sounds, and cuddle into an individual’s arms.
This year technology anthropologist Sherry Turkle, an MIT professor, published her new book, Alone Together. Part of Turkle’s book describes interactions between children and robots, and another section focuses on the ways that elderly seniors communicate with robot companions (including Paro robots). Read the New York Times book review.
Turkle raises some interesting questions about the boundaries of artificial intelligence, that is how much interaction with responsive but inanimate objects is advisable? Isn’t socializing with people preferable? The author asks us to think about where we draw the socialization line between animate and inanimate creatures.
A few months ago I wrote a post on this blog, Are Robots an Answer to Caregiving Needs? You can also listen to Sherry Turkle’s Authors@Google presentation. A March 2009 Washington Post article, I’m Here to Make You Feel Better, also addresses the topic of therapeutic robots.
Knowing just what to think about the use of robots in a caregiving setting is a challenge. especially when the needs of a person with dementia are considered. Is it advisable to offer a robot companion to a lonely elder? Are the Paro robots simply a substitute for animal therapy? Any thoughts?
Count me among the people who think that a robot is NOT an acceptable substitute for human interaction.
Here’s why the robots help: they give auditory and tactile stimulation, but also they stick around for the benefit of the person and don’t rush off to other “tasks”! The sad truth is that people could do that too, and much better, if our care systems and attitudes enabled us to do so.
Further, most people view dementia from the lens of a broken model of care, and as a result, their ability to interact effectively and enable people with dementia is limited. By learning new approaches, better facilitative skills and the flexibility to adapt to the needs of the moment, humans can elicit a much better “awakening” than any robot possibly could.
I tend to agree with your views. If you haven’t looked at Turkle’s book, you will find she, too shares your views. Thanks for your comment!
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