Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Robotic Baby Seals for Granny


A Japanese company has invent a baby seal robot that is supposed to help patients with dementia. The robot is called the PARO Therapeutic Robot and it claims to reduce stress, improve relaxation and improve socialization.

Multiple sensors that recognize things like touch or auditory stimuli assist the robot in becoming trained by the owner. Granny can give the baby seal robot a name or sit and stroke it lovingly while the robot registers position, temperature, and patterns of the owner's behavior. If the owner hits the baby seal robot, for example, the robot registers what it did just previous to being hit and it will not repeat that. In other words, it is smarter than many teenagers. 

Here we are thirty five years after I graduated from nursing school and this presents a total "about face" on dealing with patients with dementia. I know, because I was one of the students that got the evil eye from an instructor when I questioned how I was being trained to deal with elderly patients in advanced states of senile dementia. Over and over, I was told "you do not support a delusion." On the face of that logic, it seems solid. But I'll bet you've never had to apply those principles to real people.

In the real world of nursing, I encountered many elderly patients who arrived in a long term care facility with toys, stuffed animals and dolls that gave them comfort - only to be told that the staff needed to remove them. There were a variety of reasons cited, but most frequently, it was the ole' "don't support a delusion" rationale followed closely by "it's disrespectful to treat them like children."

I balked at this dogma but was cornered by care plans that included goals of removing "toys that [the patient] obsessed over."

This year, millions of dollars will be spent on pharmaceutical solutions to lessen the impact of dementia in the elderly. For most of them it will make little difference in their quality of life. Having a much loved doll or animal was a simple thing; it did more good than Valium, Haldol or any of the other chemical solutions physicians offered to calm or control patients. It was so beautifully simple.

Women especially loved to hold a doll or bear and pretend it was a child. Many of those same dear ladies would weep if the item was removed from their side.

Some patients had stuffed animals that they gave dog names, and I often wondered if they had a lap dog in past years that shared that name. 

What was the real harm? Why do we always want to make things more difficult - instead of simpler? A teddy-bear's-worth of calm and peacefulness was well worth it. When a person has reached an advanced age and must submit to institutionalized care for the remainder of their life, why not give them anything they want or care about, within reason? 

The baby seal robot is probably a great idea, and I have no doubt it provides comfort for the confused, but at an inflated price. I may be wrong, but I'll bet the price is more than a can opener or a microwave. The floor nurse would probably not get to work with this robot, as they have a special certification - it would have to be in the hands of the certified therapist, if the insurance company gets to decide what is covered.

Years have past since I set foot on a nursing floor that catered to the needs of the elderly and things may be vastly different. I still want to get everyone a teddy bear to keep them company.

Besides, Grandma knows best.




21 comments:

  1. Good morning, dear Cherdo! This is a very interesting topic and I wanted to consult Mrs. Shady about it before leaving a comment. She went through nursing school in the new millennium, many years after you did, and she told me that in her training she never heard of taking toys, dolls and plush stuffed animals away from dementia patients. Mrs. Shady and I agree with you that the development of a robot seal for those patients contradicts what you were taught in nursing school and that the cost might not be justified compared to letting them have a favorite toy or doll. "Let them have whatever brings them happiness and comfort and keeps them from screaming," Mrs. Shady told me. I agree. To me taking away a patient's toys, stuffed animals and dolls is like denying comfort measures such as a morphine drip to a dying patient on the grounds that they might get addicted to the stuff.

    Happy hump day, dear friend Cherdo!

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    1. I think that for a while there many of the guidelines that were meant to improve the quality of life for a patient took away the ability for caregivers to personalize their approach. After I changed my latitude, there was a geographical cure for me - I worked with hospitals once I went South.

      Quite a few things changed over the years, and I hope this was one of them. When I saw an article addressing the topic of the baby seal robots, I couldn't help but think about the dolls and teddy bears. Sometimes, things just never sit right with you, eh?

      Mid-week, don't freak! Thanks, Mr. and Mrs. Shady!

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  2. >>... In other words, it is smarter than many teenagers.

    No doubt. But then again, a bowl of Jello is smarter than many teenagers.

    I actually work at a place that has a Health Care component - two nursing areas, with the second one for those with dementia. And at the facility where I work, they have found that when the dementia patients are most distraught and unruly, a bottle of Thunderbird or Night Train does wonders in calming them down (and often even puts them back to sleep). Obviously though they first transfer the wine from glass bottles to plastic bottles so the patients don't accidentally break the glass and hurt themselves.

    I have often seen some of these patients cradling their plastic Thunderbird or Night Train bottles in their arms, rocking them back and forth gently and cooing, "Oh, my baby. Oh, my sweet, sweet baby." And I see no harm in this. If it makes them feel emotionally more at peace, I am all for it. Heck, even I sometimes gently rock my own bottle of Night Train (never was much of a Thunderbird fan) and sing lullabies to it, and it makes ME feel better, too. Of course, I'm not suffering from dementia, so I get to use a glass bottle o' wine.

    No, in all seriousness, CHERDO, I back you completely in your view here. (And incidentally, some of what I wrote above is truly true, but I'll bet you can differentiate the fact from the fiction.)

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

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    1. Ha ha - Thanks for the vote of confidence, most loyal of Americans. :-)

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  3. This sounds wonderful and very helpful--but I can't get the image of those spooky seals chasing grandma down the hallway out of my head. That doesn't look like something that would be good for someone suffering from dementia--when presented like that!

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    1. It was supposed to be visual that implied Granny would rather have her doll (she's rolling away from the baby seal robots). But - it is Halloween, and the baby seal ghosts would work!

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  4. I volunteered in a nursing home many years ago and was told to never go along with a delusion. When I worked in a nursing home, early in the new millennium, we lived in the patients' world. If Mrs. C thought that someone had left glass objects on her bed, I very carefully folded the bedspread around the "objects," took it in the hall for a few minutes, and then put the spread back on the bed. I told her I gave the person who had left that glass there a good scolding. Many women loved their dolls and stuffed animals. I became quite proud of my skills as a liar when "Pop" wanted to get on the elevator, leave the facility, and go over the mountain. The bridge was out, I told him. I heard it on the radio while driving to work. I pointed to the cars driving in the closest street and said, See? They're all trying to figure out a place to stay because the bridge is out.

    Love,
    Janie the Liar (in the name of kindness)

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    1. I started doing things from home in '97 and worked in administration before that, so it's been quite a while since I was on a floor - but yepper, that was the stance: don't support the delusion. It irritated me. Apparently, I hold a grudge. Who knew?

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  5. My mom has dementia although she is better than many on her floor. She is what they term "spunky". She knows they are dolls etc... and she know who I am etc... but time is off and her memory is poor and having to get her to bathe is a challenge. In the home she is in, the nurses and PSW's are told not to take away anything the elderly care for. There was one sweet lady who constantly held on to a doll and that was fine. It has been found, at least here, to help the elderly and that they need calm and quality of life as much as they can. I have seen others with little stuffed animals and they hold them or they are on their stroller chair as I call it. I think it is horrible that this law exists because these are the same people who are thinking in their own frame of mind not the mind of someone who has dementia. If their mind regresses back and they want a toy then they should have it-period! Maybe one should take away something they cherish, like their paycheque and see how they cry

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    1. Birgit, it's not a law - it just a guideline for handling delusional patients. I think that it is a bad guideline and I hope it changed. The elderly need to get whatever makes them happy and anything at all that calms them and gives them peace should be supported. ANYTHING.

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    2. "ANYTHING"?
      What if it's a loaded .38 that most makes them happy, calms them down and gives them peace?

      "Anything" is a pretty... loaded... word.

      ~ D-FensDogg

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  6. I agree with you completely!! What harm could a toy (or something else they cherish) do?

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    1. I don't care if they have their own duck! They've earned it.

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  7. What is the real harm of letting them hold onto a special thing, be it a keepsake or a toy? If it's enabling a delusion, so? What's the end game? Making them miserable and causing unnecessary anxiety. Contradicts "do no harm" if you ask me.
    On the other hand, being chased by robot seals may cause something completely unexpected.

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    1. I guess the rationale is that "do not harm" is to NOT support delusional thinking (implied harmful) and to try and bring some clarity by nudging them into reality and orientation.

      Frankly, I've always thought reality was overrated.

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    2. << Frankly, I've always thought reality was overrated. >>

      Amen, sista.

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    3. Encountering a little too much reality will change your way of thinking, eh Shadyster?

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    4. Delusions can be quite comforting.

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  8. I read your whole post. I think it is really a helpful post. Thanks.

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Thanks for your personal yada, yada, yada,
Love, Cherdo