In some brain degenerative or lesion-based diseases, communicating with the patient becomes quite difficult. At times it seems as if the brain of the patient is “closed off”.
In Alzheimer’s, for example, once the patient enters the most advanced stage of the disease, it becomes near to impossible to communicate with her.
However, there may be a new technology that could aid in therapy: mental commitment robots. One shining example is Paro, a baby seal robot created by Takanori Shibata.
Paro has one hundred sensors that pick up on light, specific voices, and even language. These types of robots are designed to interact with human beings to foster an emotional attachment; this produces three results: (1) psychological responses, such as relaxation and motivation; (2) physiological responses, such as improvement in vital signs; and (3) social effects, such as instigating communication among patients and caregivers.
While there have been no formal long-term medical studies conducted to see the full cognitive effects of Paro on patients, there have been individual cases that have shown the potential of using mental commitment robots in treatment.
In Japan, a nursing home claimed that Paro helped a woman affected by a brain aneurysm to speak again. In Italy, a therapist used Paro to help an Alzheimer’s patient communicate. Other countries are looking into using Paro for therapy. Denmark recently purchased 1,000 units, and the United States is testing Paro in twenty nursing homes and hospitals around the country.
The preliminary results show hopeful movement into discovering more about brain diseases. This could open up new possibilities in treatment, and perhaps, be a gateway in slowing disease progression.
For more information on the development of Paro: http://paro.jp/english/about.html
The video of Paro interacting with patients: http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/tech/2009/04/15/eod.lah.robot.seal.cnn
Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch is a bachelor's of science candidate in neuroscience at Trinity College in Hartford, CT. She's the senior co-editor of the Feminist Scholarship Review and Women Unite!