Robots and Younger Onset Dementia care

The Royal Melbourne Hospital Foundation has funded the Research Centre for Computers, Communication and Social Innovation (RECCSI) to trial social robots to improve the care of people with younger onset dementia (YOD).

The Royal Melbourne Hospital Foundation has funded RECCSI to investigate using social robots to improve the care of people with younger-onset dementia (YOD) at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. The trial will measure the acceptance and impact on wellbeing on people with YOD and also the acceptance of robots to the staff who care for these people.

These are the first social robot enabled trials at the Royal Melbourne Hospital to support people with Younger Onset Dementia (YOD). The trial’s aims are to investigate and test the usefulness of robots in engaging and supporting people with YOD in two settings – the hospital (Neuropsychiatry Unit) and residential care facility (Cyril Jewell House).

The robots have the ability to be involved in group and individualised settings. From a group perspective, the robots can interact with people by playing games and providing diversional therapy.

The robots incorporate emotionally intelligent software, so it can read a person’s feelings by the tone in their voice, and interact accordingly. The robots can 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. They they can sing, dance, blush, make phone calls, tell jokes and read aloud in an Australian accent. It can quiz residents to keep them mentally active.

Scanners in the robots' eyes allow them to read people's faces while the ears are microphones that can pick up sounds. They can understand emotions and respond appropriately when people are happy, sad, confused or lonely. It can track and memorize up to thirty different faces.

Staff from both settings will have an integral part of this project, as they will be providing information about individuals’ preferences (e.g. their favourite songs and games) so that modifications can be made to the robots.

This means the robots will have individualised knowledge about each person and be able to deliver personal services to each person. The robots are able to “learn” new information about the individuals, which will enhance their interaction and engagement.

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