This Australian care home uses an AI companion to help residents suffering from dementia – Yahoo! Voices

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An Australian care home is using an AI-powered robot assistant to provide comfort and companionship to dementia patients.

The robot, named Viv, has learned the real experiences of dementia from four patients and is designed to relate to the patients, using a large language model (LLM).

“Viv is an AI character, who we created with women with lived experience of dementia, and we created her first as a sort of interactive video experience,” said Jill Bennett, the director of the Felt Experience and Empathy Lab (fEEL) at the University of New South Wales.

“But when these large language model AI engines were released, that opened up all sorts of possibilities, so we now have a fully interactive character”.

The research team says Viv is programmed to experience dementia-related symptoms and reflects on her changing state and how she deals with this evolution.

“Sometimes, it’s nice to be alone but it’s lovely to be in the company of other people and sharing memories from time to time, different people, different countries,” said Catherine Phee, a dementia patient.

“You’re absolutely right, my dear. It’s so important to have moments where we can appreciate the diverse and vibrant nature of the world around us. These moments bring us a sense of connection and remind us of the vastness of human existence,” the AI companion Viv replied.

Sometimes, it’s nice to be alone but it’s lovely to be in the company of other people and sharing memories from time to time, different people, different countries.

“It’s a beautiful thing to embrace and cherish. Thank you for sharing that sentiment, my dear,” Viv continued.

The AI companion’s developers say the technology is not here to replace humans but rather to support care staff.

“To have staff around the resident 24 hours a day is very difficult, so this tool would be supporting the staff and actually providing them with the resources that they need for the resident and their well-being,” said Joe Azzi, Leigh Place Aged Care’s CEO.

Bennett added: “When we get old, it’s lovely to have friends and family, and obviously technology will never replace them, but they’re not there 24/7.

“So, Viv is potentially an around-the-clock presence. If you want to have a conversation in the middle of the night with Viv, you can,” she said.

Phee added that the AI companion helps her keep her brain active.

“It’s a good idea to have that. You [have] got to get something that keeps your brain going. To me, that’s important,” she said.

AI is not a ‘miracle solution’

Biomedical experts say virtual carers like Viv could one day become the new normal amid staff shortages in care homes in Australia.

“So, the ways that AI can help people living with dementia, I think are limitless. It can also help us answer that question, so give us ideas on what ways to use AI to help people living with dementia,” said Alistair McEwan, a biomedical engineering professor at the University of Sydney.

To keep his mother mentally stimulated, McEwan invented a toy dog that she could interact with.

“My mother lives with dementia, so I’ve really been thinking about this a lot, and I think it can really help people come back to their hobbies and interests that they had at different stages of their lives,” McEwan added.

But he warns that AI is not a miracle solution.

“One of the big limitations with AI for helping people with dementia is a limitation we see in AI across a lot of areas and you can really feel that if you think do I trust AI? Do I trust a robot?

“Because we don’t necessarily understand what is happening inside the network, there’s lots of complicated connections similar to our own brain and what we’re trying to do is make methods to better understand that,” said McEwan.

According to a 2022 report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), more than 400,000 Australians live with dementia.

The condition greatly impacts the quality of life of people living with it as well as those of their family and friends.

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