A.I. companion to help dementia patients

Mohammad Mahoor of the University of Denver will present ‘Ryan’ in Lone Tree

Posted 9/10/18

Artificial intelligence is finding its way into senior living homes, and it won’t be long before companion robots are on the market. Mohammad Mahoor, a faculty member at the University of Denver, …

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A.I. companion to help dementia patients

Mohammad Mahoor of the University of Denver will present ‘Ryan’ in Lone Tree

Posted

Artificial intelligence is finding its way into senior living homes, and it won’t be long before companion robots are on the market.

Mohammad Mahoor, a faculty member at the University of Denver, will present his robot companion “Ryan” at a Douglas County Senior Council Living and Aging Well seminar in Lone Tree on Sept. 29. Mahoor will demonstrate its uses to help elderly patients with dementia.

The robot is described as a senior companion and can recognize a user’s emotions through artificial intelligence. Ryan is able to react to a user’s mood and create a sense of empathy with an expressive face.

“Patients with dementia mostly are isolated. They have depression, so it can help with depression, first of all,” Mahoor said. “There’s a good need for technology to help dementia patients and elderly people because of the lack or shortage of nurses or caregivers.”

Ryan can start a conversation about anything and keep the user engaged. The robot is also equipped with a screen on its “torso” to play games. Patients can also play music or browse personal photo albums through Ryan. It even reminds patients to take their medicine on time.

Gretchen Lopez, the vice chair of the Senior Council of Douglas County, met Ryan and said its ability to be personalized to the patient has been an extraordinary benefit.

“The fact that it’s customizable is fabulous because when you’re dealing with seniors, things that are familiar are comforting,” Lopez said.

Mahoor did a pilot program on the robot on a handful of patients in Lakewood and found that different seniors favored different uses of it. Some preferred the converstation and company, while others enjoyed the ability to browse photos or play music.

“In a day, they embraced the technology,” Mahoor said. “All of the users were so sad when they took Ryan away from them… some of them cried because they were alone again. And I felt guilty for taking it away from them.”

Mahoor said the next generation of these robots can be used to treat children with autism or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder as well. Children with autism, for example, can find more comfort interacting with robots or objects, Mahoor said, because robots are simpler and don’t have the sensory overload from human interaction. By next year, Mahoor said the robots will be available for commercial use.

Lopez found that while some seniors she encountered were wary of the incorporation of A.I., Ryan eventually grew on many of them as they were able to interact with it.

“You are going to get that part of the population that is fearful of it and not accepting of it right now,” she said, “but as they get educated of it… it can be of great benefit to us in many different ways.”

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