Donation by machines? Human robots for people with dementia
Almost 1.6 million people with dementia currently live in Germany, two thirds of them have Alzheimer's. The number of people affected is steadily increasing. More nursing staff is urgently needed now. Human robots should now help those affected. But can machines replace human attention?
The number of dementia patients is increasing and increasing
Around 47 million people with dementia currently live around the world. According to the German Alzheimer Society, there are almost 1.6 million in Germany, most of whom have Alzheimer's. But the number continues to rise. According to the Alzheimer report, another dementia diagnosis is added every 3.2 seconds worldwide. This means that more and more nursing staff is needed. The "MARIO" project is currently working on human robots to help dementia patients. But can machines replace human attention?
The number of dementia patients is growing rapidly and the development of effective treatment methods is progressing, but a cure cannot be achieved for the time being.
For this reason, scientists also deal with the question of how technology can help those affected.
As part of the research project "Managing active and healthy aging with use of caring service robots" (MARIO), experts are trying to find ways to make life easier for patients with dementia - with the help of the human robot named after the project MARIO.
Scientists from Ireland, France, Great Britain, Europe and Germany are involved in the work. They work closely with nurses, hospitals and robotics companies.
An ethics committee led by the National University of Ireland, Galway, accompanies the work of the researchers.
"MARIO is an exciting and innovative project that will make an important contribution to the better quality of life for people with dementia," said Prof. Dr. Siegfried Handschuh from the University of Passau in an older communication.
"This project works on human-like robots that make the everyday life of those affected easier," says Prof. Handschuh.
Human attention from machines?
But can machines replace human attention? The Germans are skeptical. In Great Britain, Ireland and Italy, tests with the MARIO care robot from the EU project of the same name met with a positive response.
"To put it quite provocatively: In some cases, these robots could take better care of dementia patients than an overworked caregiver," said Prof. Handschuh in a recent press release from the University of Passau, which was published by the "Informationsdienst Wissenschaft" (idw).
The research team tested the robots in use with patients with dementia for a year. In Britain, people shared their machines at home.
Handschuh holds the chair for computer science with a focus on digital libraries and web information systems at the University of Passau. Together with his team, he contributes the software that gives the robot MARIO understanding: for language, but also for the mood of each patient.
Consistently positive feedback
From August 2016 to August 2017, the robots accompanied patients in Ireland, Italy and Great Britain.
The feedback was consistently positive: “People with dementia like MARIO. They enjoy interacting with the robot. We would have expected the robot to be more skeptical, ”said Prof. Handschuh.
According to a survey, many Germans can still imagine that robots are used as supportive assistants in nursing, for example for exhausting lifting activities.
It becomes more difficult to think that the machines could possibly replace human attention.
Making the lives of people in need of care easier
This is exactly what MARIO can do. For example, by not getting tired of asking questions such as: "Have you already taken your medicine today?" Or by responding to the patient's state of mind.
“If the robot has learned that the patient may cry every day because she remembers the deceased man, then the robot can respond. By comforting by distracting. For example, by showing pictures of beautiful experiences, ”explained project member Dr. Adamantios Koumpis.
That sounds cold and banal. But for some people in need of care, this can make life easier, sometimes even save it. Because the robot would always have an eye on its condition and could specifically alert the nursing staff as soon as it detects serious changes.
Also changes that may seem positive at first glance: “Take the woman who cries every morning. If it doesn't do this one morning, it can be an alarm signal, ”says Koumpis.
The robots are due to come onto the market in 2018
The project will expire in January 2018 and the robots will then be launched on the market. They are said to be quite affordable.
For this reason, the scientists are working with a somewhat older model, the Kompai 2, which the French company Robosoft developed. They upgraded this with the software from Passau.
Passauer are specialists in the field of natural language processing, a technology that is intended to enable people and machines not only to communicate with each other, but also to learn to understand each other.
"MARIO doesn't understand everything, especially when someone speaks strong dialect," Koumpis explained. "But people still enjoy communicating with him." (Ad)