Dementia Patients Find Comfort in Robot

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By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 2, 2008

One of the hottest therapeutic toys for people with dementia looks like a stray from the North Pole.

And it is a toy, sort of.

Paro is a fur-covered robot that resembles a seal pup. To some of residents of Vinson Hall Retirement Community in McLean, Paro has become a beloved creature.

"You know what he does? He talks to me sometimes," said Mary Sherrill Durham, 80, who was waiting to hold the robot. "I talk to him, and he says, 'How do you do?' "

After the robot settled into her lap, Durham bent to its face, peered into its eyes and talked to it as someone might talk to a dog or cat.

The robot squealed, squirmed, batted its long, black eyelashes and flopped its tail in response. It is programmed to respond, in a fashion, cooing as one strokes its fur.

The conversation went like this:

Paro: "Whoop!"

Durham: "Oh, no, that's not right."

"Whoop!"

"You shouldn't have said that."

"Whoop!"


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