How PARO Pets and Pet Therapy Can Help Seniors with Dementia

Pet therapy for seniors with dementia is shown to have a variety of benefits, but sometimes a live animal can’t provide the amount of attention our Residents in memory care need to thrive. That’s why Santa Marta features PARO Pets, a robotic pet therapy program designed specifically for people with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.

So, what exactly is a PARO Pet? Look as Santa Marta breaks down the details of this innovative therapy for memory loss, and learn some of the big benefits that come with spending time with this little robot.

What Is a PARO Pet?

A PARO pet is an FDA-approved, therapeutic robot baby seal designed to calm and encourage emotional responses for those who may be overstimulated or unable to interact with live animals. While PARO Pets can be used in a variety of ways, they’re typically used as a form of pet therapy for seniors with dementia.

PARO pets are about the size of a large cat, weigh exactly six pounds, and charge by sucking an electronic pacifier. They’re equipped with dual 32-bit processors, three microphones, 12 tactile sensors covering its fur, touch-sensitive whiskers, and a system of motors and actuators that delicately and quietly move their limbs and body.

PARO pets are designed to actively seek eye contact, respond to touch, cuddle, remember faces, and even learn actions that encourage positive responses from the people petting them.

At Santa Marta, we have more than 24 certified robot therapists and two PARO Pets named Benedetto, more affectionately known as Bene, and Bella that have become important members of our family. Many Residents in our memory care neighborhood like to sing songs and share memories about previous pets with Bene and Bella.

How Is PARO Different from Traditional Pet Therapy?

As useful as live pet therapy is for many seniors, live animals can present a few problems for those with dementia. Some residents may have fear of a live animal, animals might transfer certain diseases to the immunocompromised, and their dander bothers those with pet allergies.

PARO Pets are a way to offer pet therapy for every person in memory care at Santa Marta, because they’re always predictable, easy to keep clean, never leave our community, and have synthetic fur with antibacterial properties that won’t cause those with pet allergies to sniffle or sneeze.

PARO Pets are programmed to behave like a real animal as much as possible. They wake up a little groggy, get sleepy at night, enjoy cuddles and pats, and complain if they want attention or “food” (a battery charge). They gradually learn to respond to whatever name the community chooses to keep calling them, as well as various other audio cues like greetings and praise.

Since PARO Pets are baby seals and many people don’t know how seals behave in nature, unlike cats and dogs, it’s easier to get past the fact PARO Pets are robots and enjoy the company of a fluffy companion.

What Are the Benefits of Robotic Pet Therapy in Our Senior Living Community?

Robotic pet therapy for seniors with dementia, has many of the same traditional benefits of pet therapy, but it also has a few unique ones. Here a few ways PARO Pets offer therapeutic value to Residents of our senior living community:

More frequent speaking. A study published by Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience found that a PARO Pet may increase talking in seniors with mild or moderate dementia. In fact, another study found talking and petting were the most common activities seniors like to do with PARO Pets.

Better mood. Traditional pet therapy for seniors with dementia can help ease symptoms of depression, reduce anxiety, and boost their mood. However, interacting with live animals may not be safe for those in advanced stages. A study by Clinical Gerontologist found that just like with live animals, PARO Pets can also provide these same benefits.

Decreased medications. Along with reducing symptoms of depression, PARO Pets have been shown to decrease chronic pain in seniors with dementia. A study by the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that interacting with PARO Pets results in the reduction of psychoactive and pain medications, and the side effects that go with them.

Comforting familiarity. PARO Pets like being treated and petted in familiar ways, much like a real pet. It can learn to behave in ways Residents prefer and respond to the name it’s given by the community, like Bene and Bella. Plus, PARO Pets stay in our community, which gives those with memory loss a furry companion they’re more likely to recognize and look forward to seeing regularly.

Caregiver support. PARO Pets have a variety of benefits for caregivers. These include providing a positive distraction, interrupting problematic behaviors, offering comfort, and stimulating more conversations that help them get to know Residents at our senior living community on a personal level.

One of the biggest benefits of Benedetto and Bella is that they provide unconditional support for Residents in our senior living community with dementia. They don’t mind hearing the same stories repeated, offer much-needed comfort, encourage Residents to take part in social opportunities they may have been avoiding and, most importantly, make Santa Marta feel even more like home.

Discover Person-Centered Memory Care at Santa Marta

A senior man walks with assistance from a smiling nurse.

Led by specially trained, nurturing professionals who promote confidence and comfort while stimulating cognitive abilities, Santa Marta’s memory care program in Olathe near Overland Park, KS, is open to all seniors affected by memory loss. To learn how you or a loved one can benefit from person-centered care at Santa Marta, call us at 913-732-0889 or contact our senior living counselors online. We’re always happy to help!