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Robots are making more and more elements of everyday life easier, whether they are used to make processes more efficient, cheaper, or replacing human labor altogether. Robots are already being used to help doctors in operating rooms, and their use in the medical field is extending to improve care for those living with dementia.
With an aging population and the number of healthcare workers for each elderly person predicted to fall dramatically by 2030, new means for caregiver support are in desperate need.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is a term for a number of progressive brain conditions. The most common forms of dementia include Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, among others. There are over 200 different types of dementia, but individual experiences of each type of dementia can vary a lot between person to person. Dementia usually occurs in people over the age of 65, but it can affect anyone of any age.
The symptoms of dementia include:
- Loss of memory
- Difficulty in maintaining concentration
- Confusion about times and places
- Mood swings
- Struggling to find the right words
- Struggling with everyday tasks and activities
These symptoms are brought on because dementia damages neurons in the brain that are responsible for sending messages to and from the brain to the rest of the body. This damage means the body isn’t able to function normally.
However, dementia doesn’t only affect the person living with the condition. Caregivers can also experience significant stress related to the burden of caring for someone with a challenging condition.
How are Robots Useful in Dementia?
Robots can help relieve stress for caregivers in a number of ways. Robots have been designed to help people get in and out of bed, and remind them to take medication. They can also increase a person’s safety in and around the house by providing updates to caregivers that are unable to be present in person.
People living with dementia may also be able to stay in their own homes for longer before they need to move to a specialist care home, reducing pressure on care facilities and prolonging independence for those with dementia.
Additionally, robots can have significant emotional benefits for patients, and several studies have reported lower depression levels.
Types of Robots Available for Dementia
A therapeutic Japanese baby seal robot called Paro is available that has been cleared for use in the NHS. It allows patients to enjoy the benefits of animal therapy without the responsibility of caring for a real animal, or in environments where access to real animals is restricted or denied, such as hospitals or other care facilities.
Paro was designed to reduce stress, stimulate interaction, improve socialization and decrease loneliness. It can remember its name and the types of interactions its user prefers, and can respond to the user appropriately using this information.
Mario is the name of another robot that was designed to be a companion and help people with dementia remain engaged in activities and events and encourage them to keep in touch with their friends and family.
Mario has a number of apps including games apps, news apps, and music apps, as well as calendar reminders, and social media apps that keep users connected to their friends and family. All of these apps can be personalized, and, overall, trials with Mario have shown positive results.
What are the Drawbacks of Robots in Dementia Care?
There are concerns that the use of robots may impersonalize care if developed as, and used as, a replacement for human care. Understandably, there is also concern that caregiving robots may reduce jobs in the care sector.
However, the use of robots can free up caregivers to concentrate on the more personal aspects of the job and make the job more enjoyable, reducing the percentage of caregivers that leave their jobs each year due to low job satisfaction.
In terms of functionality, it is also unlikely that robots will be able to wash or dress people, and robots that do undertake physical tasks like helping patients in and out of bed do pose safety concerns.
In regards to studies assessing the positive outcomes of using robots in dementia care, many were found to have methodological drawbacks, and not every study reported positive outcomes. Additionally, introducing robots for group and individual interactions showed very different results, with positive reactions found more often in group situations over individual interactions.
Robots for dementia care are designed to assist and support human caregivers, and not replace them. Studies have conflicting conclusions about the benefits of robots in dementia care, with many studies lacking in scientific value or methodological quality. However, many studies have reported positive outcomes for both patients and caregivers. While robots have been proven to help relieve stress and a number of other symptoms of dementia, there is no replacement for human care. Further research and development need to be carried out to create robots that complement, rather than replace, human care, with the capabilities to help in emergency situations for a huge number of people in different circumstances.
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