Talk to the robot

Improved communication for people with dementia is a step closer as Griffith developsthe use of new telepresence robot technology.

Designed to facilitate a conversation between the person with dementia and their familymembers, the robot — affectionately called “Gerry” — is described as a “Skype on wheels”.This is due to its human head-sized screen which displays the face of the user using Skypetechnology and records the two-way conversation. This allows the research team to makeuse of advanced Face Reader software which records and measures the emotionalresponses of the person with dementia.

“Gerry’s main aims are to improve quality of life for the person with dementia and toincrease our understanding of this very prevalent condition,” says Professor WendyMoyle, director of the Centre for Clinical and Community Practice Innovation at theGriffith Health Institute.

Easy-to-use technology

“Gerry is able to increase the person’s human interaction in a very simple way. An easy-to-use, totally portable technology, Gerry will allow families to easily see and connectwith each other,” she says regarding the trials which are being funded by the DementiaCollaborative Research Centre.

“Family members who may live far away from mum or dad, or cannot make the drive will be able to wake Gerry up in order that he can initiate the conversation between the twoparties. Once the person with dementia has been informed by Gerry, that person onlyneeds to push one large button to get started. From there, a family member will be able tohave a good chat with mum who can for example, show her the flowers in the garden or ask her to point out her medications. This is made possible by Gerry’s ability to be movedby the family member from the luxury of their own home.”

Queensland trials

Currently being trialled in a Queensland RSL Care nursing home, the basic technology forGerry was originally developed in Denmark where it has been used as a way for healthprofessionals to remotely communicate with their patients.

Professor Moyle now says she has high hopes for the more therapeutic “Gerry” version ofthe robot within the nursing home environment, as she and her team work to developdifferent opportunities to use Gerry.

“Our research has shown that people with dementia living within a nursing home maytypically only receive between two and 28 minutes of human interaction within a 24 hourperiod. We would obviously hope to increase this by improving the ease with whichfamily members can communicate with their loved ones.”

Robin Pickworth, lifestyle manager for the RSL Care Talbarra RetirementCommunity agrees.“Technology often really scares our residents. This technology offersa great way for them to easily connect with their family members. We are very excitedabout the forthcoming trials.”

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