Robots can Give Respite to Caregivers of People with Dementia

According to a news release March 19, 2019 by the University of California, San Diego, researchers have been able to identify characteristics and guidelines to be used in building robots for people living with dementia. The robots can also give some relief and respite to their caregivers. They presented the results of their research at the Human Robot Interaction conference March 11 to 14, 2019 in South Korea.

Voluntary Caregivers Provide 18 billion Hours a Year of Unpaid for Care

Family members and caregivers for people with dementia have an overburdening 24 hour seven day a week job. Of these unpaid voluntary caregivers, 75% are spouses or children. This is equivalent to 15 million Americans who provide 18 billion hours a year of unpaid for care. Many of them collapse under the strain and have to deal also with their own aging and health problems.

Caregivers Want Robots to Fulfill Two Major Roles

Until now no one ever tried to understand what needs the caregivers and people with dementia have that could be met by robots. Also, most technology is designed to help caregivers only by educating rather than by direct assistance and reducing the burden. The researchers discovered that caregivers want robots to fulfill two major roles:

  1. Give support to happy and fun-filled moments shared by the caregivers with their loved ones that have dementia
  2. Lessen the emotional stress on caregivers by taking on tasks such as answering repeated questions, getting their loved ones to bathe, prohibiting consumption of unhealthy food and keeping the demented loved one from driving a car.

Six Months were Spent Co-designing Robots

The team of scientists spent six months co-designing robots with family members, social workers and other caregivers caring for people suffering from dementia. The researchers needed to get their input, so that the robots will be able to give the caregivers the help they really need. They used pre-cut foam shapes to build the various types of robots and selected functions for them such as:

  • Playing games
  • Reviewing photo albums
  • Physical exercising
  • Interactions using touch screens and voice commands

The research team identified 16 Major Challenges Facing Caregivers

The research team identified 16 major challenges that caregivers have to face such as isolation, difficulty with accepting the diagnosis of dementia and the difficulty with making self-care a priority. See our blog post from April 3, 2018 for more tips for accepting the diagnosis of dementia and living well with dementia.

Half of the robots they designed were mainly for relieving stress from the repetitive questions asked by people with dementia. As soon as someone with dementia gets an answer to a question they immediately forget it and then ask the same question over and over again and this can go on for hours.

Types of Technology Available Today

In workshops the researchers presented the caregivers with a brief presentation of the various types of technology currently available today such as:

  • Pet-like robots
  • Cleaning robots
  • Telepresence robots
  • Smart speakers
  • Wearable technology

Characteristics and Guidelines for Building Robots

  • Robots should be able to help redirect conversations when repetitive questions become too much of a burden.
  • Robots should be able to adapt to new situations and to the changes in behavior of the person with dementia. This is crucial, since dementia is a progressive disease and each new stage has new challenges for the caregivers. Also, the pattern and rate of progression differs from person to person and so it is almost impossible to predict what will happen next.
  • Robots must be able to learn from end users and customize and personalize their responses and interactions.
  • Robots should have human-like components like using a real human voice or having a real human face but they do not have to look like a human being. The caregivers wanted the robots to include help building trust such as looking like a doctor or a friend.
  • The robots should interact with humans by voice activation like a smart speaker. They especially wanted the voices to sound like those voices the demented people were familiar with like those of their caregivers and their doctors.

Long-term Skilled Nursing Care for Memory Loss and Dementia

The Van Duyn Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Syracuse, New York offers memory care for memory loss and dementia. Van Duyn also has a wide array of recreational activities to encourage socialization for people suffering from memory loss.


Hopefully, we will soon see robots helping people with dementia and giving relief to caregivers. Let us hope it will soon be possible to lease a robot.

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