Robot 'Alice' is helping transform the lives of people with dementia (ABC News)
Robot 'Alice' is helping transform the lives of people with dementia (ABC News)

ABC News reports on high-tech tools, like humanoid robots and virtual reality, that are transforming the lives of people living in Australian dementia care facilities.

The technology — used to engage, entertain and encourage social interaction — is bringing the residents out of their shells. In the process, it is dispelling any notion that age and cognitive impairment are a barrier to embracing technology.

At the Brightwater dementia facility in Madeley, in Perth's northern suburbs, some residents have formed a close emotional bond with a small humanoid robot named Alice.

People with dementia often withdraw from social contact, but staff say they cannot keep residents away from Alice's weekly music group. With programming support from staff, Alice also runs exercise classes and a games hour where residents are encouraged to socialise. Many clearly enjoy their interactions with the little robot.

For example, after being beaten by a jubilant Alice in a game of rock, paper, scissors, resident Colin Farmer patted her affectionately on the foot and said "thanks, mate".

She's one of the family here now, a real member of the family
Brightwater resident, Colin Farmer 

In the southern Perth suburb of Bentley, the Kingia dementia facility run by Swancare has trialled the use of virtual reality goggles with great success. For staff, it was an emotional moment watching Charlie Giuffre sit calmly and smile broadly as he used the goggles.  After taking them off, he became animated and initiated interaction with other residents.

They explained Mr Giuffre often did not communicate, found it hard to sit still, and would often abscond.

It's very rare that we seem him interact. It's lovely to see
activities officer Ashleigh Fitzgerald

The goggles were developed by Melbourne company Build VR specifically for use in aged care. For dementia design specialist Debbie de Fiddes, who brought the goggles to the facility, the response from residents was vindication of her belief that technology can vastly improve the quality of life for people with dementia.

Technology can be wonderful therapy
dementia design specialist Debbie de Fiddes


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