Robot assistant helping elderly people tackle memory loss

Image credit: ENRICHME

A robot assistant has been trialled in three care homes, with the aim of helping elderly people combat the decline in their mental abilities which often comes with age.

The ENRICHME (‘ENabling Robot and assisted living environment for Independent Care and Health Monitoring of the Elderly’) project, is attempting to solve the problem of cognitive deterioration by developing a robot to assist in elderly people’s mental acuity.

Statistics show that almost a fifth of Europeans are over the age of 65 and having the correct support means an older person’s cognitive decline can often be reduced, leading to more independent, healthier and longer lives.

The ENRICHME robot, which moves around the care home, reminds residents where they have put things and offers physical, memory and cognitive exercises. It is considered an enabling tool for social interactions and inclusion, improving quality of life.

At each location where it was trialled – England, Poland and Greece – the robot helped residents and was linked to sensors around the home so it could keep an eye on the movements and activities of the people involved in the study.

The robot had a thermal camera installed to measure temperature of a person in real time, so it could estimate respiration and heartbeat levels. Therefore, if a resident was anxious or stressed during an activity, the robot acknowledged it and acted accordingly.

ENRICHME’s approach is based on the ambient assisted-living principle that mixes technology with human carers to enhance support for the elderly.

Dr Nicola Bellotto, one of the principal investigators of ENRICHME, told Horizon Magazine that their robots could be operated by healthcare professionals to provide tailored care for elderly patients.

Bellotto, who is based at the University of Lincoln, said: “One of the big challenges we have in Europe is the high number of elderly people that the public health system has to deal with.

“The users involved in the trials showed high level of engagement with the robot they were living with - even naming it Alfie in one case – and also provided good feedback.

“Some challenges we had were how to approach the right person in these different environments because sometimes a person lives with multiple people, or because rooms are small and cluttered and it is simply not possible for the robot to move safely from one point to another,” he said.

He added it is still a few years away from being rolled out to the wider public, but Bellotto and his team are applying for funding to solve technical problems and help take the robot towards commercialisation.

In 2016, the total cost of ageing in the EU was 25 per cent of GDP, a figure that is expected to rise significantly in the coming decades. ENRICHME could reduce public spending on care for older people.

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