New robot could help dementia patients live independently

A robot built by scientists in the US could help elderly people and those with dementia live independently at home, its creators claim.

Scientists at Washington State University (WSU) say its Robot Activity Support System (RAS) uses sensors embedded around the home to determine where a resident is, what they’re doing and when they need help with daily tasks.

When needed, a helper robot can then be deployed to find people on their own and provide video instructions on how to carry out simple tasks or lead owners to important objects such as medication or food.

Diane Cook, regents professor of electrical engineering and computer science and director of the WSU Centre for Advanced Studies in Adaptive Systems where the robot was developed, said the system could help more elderly people stay in their own homes.

“Upwards of 90% of older adults prefer to age in place as opposed to moving into a nursing home,” she said.

“We want to make it so that instead of bringing in a caregiver or sending these people to a nursing home, we can use technology to help them live independently on their own.”

The robot and sensor system has so far been tested by 26 students, who were asked to carry out three tasks and then rate the robot’s performance.

The researchers said most rated the system favourably.

Bryan Minor, a postdoctoral researcher in the WSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, said the creators now wanted to help the system with elderly users.

“While we are still in an early stage of development, our initial results with RAS have been promising,” he said.

“The next step in the research will be to test RAS’ performance with a group of older adults to get a better idea of what prompts, video reminders and other preferences they have regarding the robot.”

Dr Fiona Carragher, chief policy and research officer at the Alzheimer’s Society, welcomed new ideas to support dementia patients but warned against cutting human interaction.

“There’s no cure for dementia, and no new drugs for over 15 years, so it’s important to develop innovative ways to support the 850,000 people in the UK currently living with dementia,” she said.

“There is evidence to suggest that robots can boost social engagement, improve mood and reduce agitation for some people with dementia – but nothing can or should replace human and social interaction.

“Technology has the potential to revolutionise dementia care, which is why we’re supporting a £20 million investment in the UK Dementia Research Institute Care and Technology centre to focus specifically on this.

“But that is tomorrow’s world, and we need to talk about today. We urgently need the Government to properly fund the system so care workers get the training and time they need to provide high-quality dementia care to everyone who needs it.”

- Press Association

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