Little robot Alice brightening up a cloudy-brain day
DEMENTIA and cognitive decline patients at West Australia's Brightwater villages are happily learning to interact with sweet little Alice, a Zorabot robot.
Brightwater chief executive officer Jennifer Lawrence said 80% of the people in its residential aged care facilities have some form of cognitive decline.
Finding cost-effective tools to help engage with these patients has led Ms Lawrence and her team to trialling Alice.
"These socialisation robots have been specifically developed for aged care," Ms Lawrence said.
"Operating them is really simple so you can teach volunteers, care workers and people who run activities like the allied health staff to program the robot."
The team at Brightwater are monitoring how the staff respond to the robot.
"If they didn't like her, it would flow onto the residents," Ms Lawrence said.
The staff were concerned the robot would create more work for them, but in fact they are taking to Alice quite quickly as it's cute mannerisms evoke a smile from those working alongside her.
"What we are finding is there is huge excitement because they are seeing the response from the residents," Ms Lawrence said.
"They are lining up to be taught how to use it which I think is hugely positive."
The research team have also found that having the 57cm high robot run the patient activities is proving far more effective than having it just assist.
Alice is now programmed to full run an activity. At one site she is even running a singing group.
"It's been so popular the residents have asked for special t-shirts that they can wear and they want to have a concert at the end of the project," Ms Lawrence said.
"It shows how engaged people are in this project.
"We are doing exercise groups such as walking, we have some reminiscent groups, Alice runs little competitions with quiz of the day, proverbs of the day, guess the emotion and she does all sorts of emotions, capital cities, guess the sport; it's using technology to help people who are in residential aged care enjoy their day."
The interactions between patients and staff are being monitored and recorded so that the impact of this socialisation robot on people with cognitive decline is properly measured.
The project, which is being run on two sites, has been going for about 12 months and has another six months of testing to be completed.
Ms Lawrence is already looking at the future with the hope of purchasing robots for each of the Brightwater's 12 aged care sites and 10 disability care sites, but at about $25,000 each Ms Lawrence will need to find several donors to help make these acquisitions possible.
At least the running costs are minimal as recharging the robot the only ongoing outlay.