Technology has been used to improve the quality of life of people with dementia (PWD), and one of the more novel and creative ways of managing the complex care of these people is the use of healthcare robotics. These robots have been successfully integrated in residential aged care facilities (RACFs) which accommodate older PWD, and in their homes.
The robots have a range of multimodal features, such as voice recognition, face tracking and registration and emotion recognition. The robots are programmed to have the ability to move, dance, speak up to five languages, play music and play games. They have been specifically programmed to be used with older PWD so they speak slowly and can use a range of non-verbal communication skills. An added advantage is the robot’s ability to speak different languages, which is important in a hospital and community setting which caters for Melbourne’s multicultural diversity. The robots utilise the internet/wireless network and cloud computing infrastructure in order to become part of a unified communication network. Thus, these robots can be programmed to perform certain tasks remotely, via face-to-face, computer, tablet and smart phone (Khosla et al. 2012).
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Much of the work to date with robots has been in older persons with dementia and the use of these robots has yet to be trialled with people with younger-onset dementia. This project proposes a bold and exciting approach to deliver innovative and high quality care by investigating the utility of robots in an assessment and community setting, with the following objectives:
  1. 1. To explore whether the robots can improve the quality of life of people with younger-onset dementia in the ward and RACF environment by providing a less threatening focus;
  2. 2. To assist with socially engaging people with younger-onset dementia which might also important provide information about their cognition, function and behaviour;
  3. 3. To provide sensory and emotional enrichment in a potentially monotonous environment;
  4. 4. To investigate the scope of these robots in providing other assessments such as monitoring falls risk, sleep patterns, agitation, and how they might provide early individualised interventions to prevent adverse events.
  5. 5. To assess the acceptability, tolerability and feasibility of using these robots with people with younger-onset dementia.
This project will take a dual approach in extending the little research available about how robots can improve the quality of life of older PWD, by investigating how these can be utilised in people with younger-onset dementia: in the Neuropsychiatry Unit (NPU) at the Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH); and in a residential aged care facility, Cyril Jewel House, which accommodates people with younger-onset dementia. Staff from both settings will have an integral part of this project, as they will be providing information about the individuals’ preferences (e.g. their favourite songs and games), to computer programmers, so that modifications can be made to the robots. This means the robots will have individualised knowledge about each person. Hence, the robots are able to “learn” new information about the individuals, which will enhance their interaction and engagement
Two robots will spend six months each in the NPU, and then in Cyril Jewell House. During this period, individualised information obtained by the staff will be provided to the computer programmers. 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.
A satisfaction survey that has been previously used when evaluating the robots will be administered to the staff, patients and residents. In addition, focus groups will provide further qualitative information about the utility and feasibility of the robots in this group. Quantitative data about the frequency, duration and reason for usage can be downloaded from the robot and will provide objective information about usage (time spent, number of interactions, type of activity).