How robotics and AI help the discovery and treatment of Dementia

Artificial intelligence is advancing rapidly and becoming intertwined with our daily lives. Now robotics and AI is improving quality of life for dementia sufferers and their caregivers alike.
PARO robotic seal in use in a care home
The PARO robotic seal senses touch, light, sound and faces. Image: PARO

Dementia and technology

Around 50 million people suffer from dementia around the world. The World Health Organisation advises that 10 million new dementia sufferers are diagnosed every year. The most common form of the syndrome is Alzheimer’s disease.

Dementia takes a toll on both the patient and their caregivers. With deterioration in cognitive thinking, people with dementia can experience memory loss, confusion, and disorientation. This can be equally tough on the patients’ friends and family.

Now technology is helping to ease the burden of the syndrome and diagnose it faster.

Robotic diagnosis

AI can process data and track behavioural changes faster than we can. As dementia is a syndrome that worsens over time, spotting the first signs of deterioration helps doctors to adapt medication and support quickly to help manage the condition.

Researchers at Washington State University (WSU) have built a Robot Activity Support System (RAS). This is designed to assist with dementia patients’ independence, and help them remain comfortably in their own homes.

The RAS is a network of sensors placed around a home. These determine where the resident is and when they need help. If RAS sees that their human needs assistance, it can either deploy a helper robot, provide prompts to remind them where their medication is stored, for example, or provide video instructions to help with tasks.

Diane Cook, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at WSU sayswe 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‘.

WSU researcher testing smart home system
Washington State University researchers have developed a smart home system for dementia sufferers. Image: WSU

Human characteristics

Scientists at the University of California San Diego spent six months developing robotics to support dementia sufferers. The researchers worked with patients and their families to identify the most important characteristics that robots should have.

The researchers found that AI and robots needed to work hand in hand. For example, it is crucial that robots can respond adaptively, and amend their actions to reflect changes in the syndrome.

Robots supporting dementia sufferers work best when they have a human-like voice, or can interact through a familiar medium such as a TV.

AI has come a long way, and it is the ability to learn and adapt which makes it possible for robots to identify changing behaviours. Not only does this help to spot when the patient’s condition may be worsening but allows the robot to understand and change their responses accordingly.

Seal robotics

AIST is a Japanese company who developed PARO.  This is a robotic seal which is currently in its eighth generation design.

The PARO interactive robot was created to reflect the benefits of animal therapy. The seal helps to soothe stress, improve relaxation and provide motivation to patients.

The robot has five sensors which register tactility, light, sound temperature and movement. It recognises different times of day, knows when it is being touched or held, and recognises voices and sounds. The seal registers responses to its actions and repeats or removes them depending on how they were perceived.

The Alzheimer’s Society saysthese novel seal robots can boost social engagement, improve mood and reduce agitation in some people living with dementia. Although it is vital that they are used alongside human contact, and never replace it.’

I think that is the key. Technology can provide support to help with the identification and management of illnesses such as dementia. However, it is an aid to human care and not a replacement.

Have you experienced robotics in healthcare? How do you think AI will develop further to assist the healthcare world with identification and treatment of diseases?

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