Social robots head home for mild dementia

La Trobe University's famous aged care robots are heading out of the residential sector and into the homes of people living with mild dementia.

Part of La Trobe's Research Centre for Computers, Communication and Social Innovation (RECCSI) research into social robots, a trial got underway this month in Melbourne to study how interaction with the robots affected the emotional wellbeing of people with mild dementia.

A robot is being placed in the home of a dementia sufferer for two weeks, with the emotional wellbeing of each participant measured by their responses to the robot.

“These assistive robots are expected to improve the emotional wellbeing of mild dementia sufferers through engagement and sensory enrichment,” lead researcher Rajiv Khosla said.

The trial will also study the effect on the quality of life of carers involved in supporting the people with dementia. It is funded by a $40,000 Alzheimer's Australia Dementia Research Foundation grant.

The robots – named Matilda, Jack, Charles and Sophie – are provided by NEC and have been designed by Professor Khosla’s team for service and social innovation in healthcare.

They have previously been used in trials in aged care facilities in Melbourne and northern Queensland. They have been trained to read human emotions by analysing facial features and body language, and are wirelessly programmed to notify nurses if a patient is distressed, injured or requires help.

For the non-residential care study, however, they will use their more social abilities.

“They can talk, sing, dance, play games, tell the weather and read the newspaper,” Professor Khosla said in a statement. “They are unique, the first of their kind to be used therapeutically for mild dementia sufferers.

“They include innovative services like reminiscing with dementia suffers, sending mood-based emails and supporting care-givers to remotely manage activities of dementia sufferers.

“The social robots can also make phone calls and remind patients to take their medicine. Senior citizens with mild dementia can communicate with the social robots using their voice or a touch panel with large buttons. The touch panel allows remote communication with the robot at home.”

Professor Khosla said they will interact with participants and measure their social response by detecting changes in their emotional state. “We believe these robots will help the dementia sufferers to gain confidence in daily life and reduce feelings of uselessness.

“They could revolutionise the way we look after older people with dementia. The social robots are already breaking technology barriers and are set to provide more sophisticated and emotionally engaging services to help our senior citizens become more independent and resilient.”

Posted in Aged Care

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