Talk to the robot

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

Designed to facilitate a conversation between the person with dementia and their family members, 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 Skype technology and records the two-way conversation. This allows the research team to make use of advanced Face Reader software which records and measures the emotional responses of the person with dementia.

“Gerry’s main aims are to improve quality of life for the person with dementia and to increase our understanding of this very prevalent condition,” says Professor Wendy Moyle, director of the Centre for Clinical and Community Practice Innovation at the Griffith 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 connect with each other,” she says regarding the trials which are being funded by the Dementia Collaborative 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 two parties. Once the person with dementia has been informed by Gerry, that person only needs to push one large button to get started. From there, a family member will be able to have 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 moved by 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 for Gerry was originally developed in Denmark where it has been used as a way for health professionals to remotely communicate with their patients.

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

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

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

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