Modern technology has been bringing convenience to everyday life since the advent of the dishwasher or the tumble dryer. These everyday domestic helpers can give time and quality of life to the users in ways many people take for granted. Even though robotic technology has not become as commonplace in the home, we are seeing robotic vacuums such as Roomba and home assistants programmed with AI such as Google Home or Alexa. In the second decade of the 21st century, we are no longer surprised by robots, AI and digital data-sharing. In this article, the application of robotic assistive technology to dementia health care will be explored.
One of the older applications of robotic technology in healthcare is an assortment of Robotic pets primarily designed as comfort and companion robots. These robotic pets include Paro, a plush, interactive baby harp seal, which has been studied extensively within the dementia population for its therapeutic effect in reducing stress. Other examples of robotic pets include Tombot, a plush, responsive dog, Aibo, a sleek, robotic dog, and even PLEO a soft, colourful baby dinosaur. While robotic pets are appealing, some ethical concerns have emerged around the concept of tasking a robot with comfort and companionship roles for vulnerable, socially isolated people.
A representative member of the telepresence robotic group, Giraff provides a remote medical monitoring system for use within the healthcare setting. The Giraff is not humanoid, consisting mainly of a moveable screen on a robotic stand. While Giraff was previously available worldwide, it is now only available for purchase in Sweden. Giraff and other telepresence robots are scaled and priced only for use by hospitals or residential care facilities.
Another example of a robot being used in the healthcare field is Mario. MARIO has been designed by the School of Nursing and Midwifery in the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG) to be an assistive robot for people with dementia. MARIO has been programmed to talk with nursing home residents with dementia. The robot can play music, remind them of everyday tasks and give them the latest news. Although researchers acknowledge that it cannot replace human care, it can help improve a person’s day-to-day life. The MARIO project has been led by Professor Dympna Casey. The robot was trialled in Ireland, the UK and Italy. In Ireland, MARIO interacted with some of the residents of St Brendan's Care Centre, Loughrea, Co Galway.
Developed by EU company SoftBank Robotics, Pepper has the distinction of being the first social, humanoid robot. He can recognize and respond to human faces and emotions. Pepper can be purchased for use in schools and businesses but has not been developed specifically for people with dementia.
Developed specifically for people with dementia by an Irish company, Mylo provides companionship and communication support. Mylo is a humanoid robot, but the screen defaults to an emotive cartoon cat face, giving Mylo the charm of the robotic pets with the monitoring and assistive capabilities of the robots designed for use in individual’s home, nursing homes and hospitals. Mylo’s face is also the communication screen for remote monitoring and video chat functions. Mylo is available for rental with complete service support included making Mylo a user-friendly and affordable option for families looking for extra in-home support.