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CES 2012: Improving Life For Those with Dementia

CES is not all about cool new televisions, laptops, and smart phones.

One of the more fascinating sections of CES deals with Robotics. Last year, I discovered a company which is using robotics to address a serious healthcare problem: Agitation and anxiety in the elderly who suffer from dementia.

When faced with an agitated patient with dementia, the options for management are terrible. Step number one is to use non-medication means to calm the person. These are often useless and are always time intensive. Step number two, is the use of sedative medication. Unfortunately, such medication is usually not effective and always carries high risk for harm and premature death.

Another non-medication option involves the use of “therapy dogs,” which are surprisingly helpful. Unfortunately, in a nursing home setting, this is only possible for short intervals that render the therapy less useful.

An interesting company called PARO was, again, at CES displaying their “therapeutic robots.” It is a robot designed to look like a baby harp seal. The company calls this a “non-familiar animal” that people “can accept” more “easily without their preconception.” It is covered in “artificial antibiotic fur” with a hard inner skeleton.

It contains sophisticated intelligence circuitry to interact with humans, responding to light, sound, temperature, touch and posture.

It recharges with a pacifier like attachment.

To see these devices in person is remarkable. In a very short period of time, you find yourself petting and interacting with it as if it were a living pet that needed comforting. While the CES show floor does not allow “field demonstrations” with elderly patients suffering from dementia, the hands on experience and online video is convincing.

There is just one glitch: the device is not cheap: $200 per month. Insurance will not cover it.

On the other hand, a month of Zyprexa or similar harmful sedative easily exceeds $200 per month and every study confirms these drugs are always harmful and questionably useful. Yet, drugs are covered by insurance.

For the second year in a row, I walked away from the PARO booth convinced this would be a dramatic improvement in patient care. I do suggest this to families who might benefit, but no one has tried a device so far.

Anyone interested can visit the site: http://www.parorobots.com.

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