Building robots that can help people with dementia have long been a target for robots. Yet until now no one has tried to investigate informal caregivers, such as family members, about what features and roles these robots should have.
A team of scientists from the University of California San Diego sought to address this problem by spending six months in co-designing robots with family members, social workers and other health care providers who care for people with dementia. They present their results at the Human Robot Interaction conference from 11 to 14 March in South Korea.
The researchers found that caregivers wanted robots to play two main roles: supporting positive moments shared by caregivers and their loved ones; and reduce the emotional stress of caregivers by taking on difficult tasks, such as answering repeated questions and limiting unhealthy food.
"Caregivers have designed robots not only to handle difficult aspects of care, but also to support joyful and fun activities," said Laurel Riek, professor of computer science at UC San Diego, and senior author of the newspaper. .
Spouses or adult children provide 75% of care for people with dementia. This is equivalent to 15 million people in the United States alone, providing 18 billion hours of unpaid care per year with little support and few resources. Caregivers are also likely to neglect their health and well-being, which can put both parties at risk.
Most of the technology designed to support caregivers only seeks to educate rather than reduce the burden. Caregivers also sometimes have access to virtual support systems and connections to doctors via smartphone or desktop computer, but again focus on education and not on direct assistance.
On the contrary, domestic robots could provide health workers with the relief they need badly. Before building robots, it is essential to provide input to caregivers so that the robots are well designed and really useful.
"It is imperative that researchers adopt a community-centered approach to understanding stakeholder perspectives before building technology," said Riek. "Especially in healthcare robotics: you should not enter with a technological hammer."
Half of the caregiver-designed robots were mainly focused on mitigating stress from the repetitive questions that people with dementia ask. Caregivers have also imagined robots able to provide reminders of a person's daily schedule and tasks. They also designed robots to help with physical therapy and manage drugs.
As dementia progressed, caregivers wanted the robots to interact more with the person with dementia, helping with daily activities and offering reminders. The robots envisioned by caregivers served as counselors and facilitators and sometimes as "bad guys" who could say "no" to the person with dementia.
Researchers are now using these low-tech prototypes to build high-tech prototypes that they plan to start testing in homes next year.
Interviews and practical workshops
For the study, researchers led by Riek have built relationships with three different day care centers in San Diego County.
A series of interviews and practical workshops with health professionals were conducted by two university students of cognitive sciences from the University of San Diego, Sanika Moharana and Alejandro E. Panduro, and a post-doctoral degree in computer science, Hee Rin Lee. A total of 18 people participated in the research, including 13 family members who assisted people with various types of dementia, five social assistants who led day care centers and three geriatric nurses working in the centers.
Based on everyone's feedback, the team identified 16 major challenges that caregivers faced, from difficulty in accepting dementia, to isolation, to the difficulty of prioritizing self-care.
In the workshops, researchers offered caregivers a brief presentation on the types of technologies available today, including pet-like robots, cleaning robots, telepresence robots, smart speakers and wearable devices.
Thus, with the help of students, caregivers selected key problems and collaborated robots to deal with them. They used pre-cut foam shapes to build the robot prototypes. They have also selected functions for robots (such as playing, reviewing photo albums, practicing, etc.) and a way of interacting between the robot and the person with dementia and caregivers (eg voice commands and touch screens).
Caregivers have designed their ideal robots to follow predetermined scenarios provided by researchers and social workers, including prevention of a person with dementia to drive, bathe them or answer repetitive questions.
Characteristics of the robot
Based on the results of the six-month community design process, the researchers identified a set of features and design guidelines for the robots to support dementia health professionals and people with dementia:
- Robots should help redirect conversations when repetitive questions become burdensome
- Robots should be integrated into everyday objects to which people with dementia are already familiar or borrowing from such objects. For example, a caregiver wanted her husband to receive messages through TV, which he spends a lot of time watching.
- Robots should be able to adapt to new situations and the behavior of the person with dementia. This is particularly important because dementia is a progressive disease and each phase brings new challenges for caregivers. Furthermore, progression patterns vary from person to person and therefore are almost impossible to predict.
- Robots should be able to learn from end users and customize and customize their interactions and responses.
- Robots should have human-type components. This does not mean that they should look human. Rather, the machines could, for example, use a real human voice or face. "When caregivers wanted robots to take an active role in persuading people with dementia to do something, they designed robots with more human characteristics," the researchers write. In this connection, caregivers wanted robots to include features that would help create trust, such as the appearance of a friend or doctor.
- Robots should interact with humans through voice activation, just like an intelligent speaker. More specifically, caregivers wanted robots to use voices with which their loved ones would be familiar: health workers or doctors. Even caregivers wanted robots to be able to recognize faces.
Riek is a faculty member at UC San Diego's Contextual Robotics Institute, a partnership between the Jacobs School of Engineering and the Division of Social Sciences at UC San Diego.