Robotherapy for Dementia Patients Shakes Off Apathy

Robots could help apathetic dementia sufferers to shake off some of their apathy. A Spanish research team arrived at this conclusion in a pilot study reported on at the 23rd Meeting of the European Neurological Society (ENS) in Barcelona, where 3,000 experts are gathering to discuss current developments in their field. The rapid rise in dementia sufferers is one of the most urgent challenges for health care and social services. Right now, 35.6 million people already suffer from dementia worldwide.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) predicts that current demographic trends will cause the number of dementia patients to double by 2013 and to triple by 2050. Dr Meritxell Valentí Soler (CIEN Foundation – Alzheimer Center Reina Sofía Foundation, Madrid, Spain):

“We have to develop approaches for optimum long-term care for these patients that take into account the fact that an ever smaller number of young people will have to be taking care of an ever larger number of elderly people. Maybe robots would help therapists in the future.”

For the current study, coordinated by Dr Pablo Martinez-Martin, Dr Valentí examined the degree of therapeutic success for 101 patients aged 58 to 100 who had moderate to severe grade of dementia and were receiving institutional care. Females accounted for 88% of the total number of subjects in the study.

robo

Robot Movements in Physiotherapy Session

All patients underwent therapy units under the program twice a week over a period of three months. They received music, language and cognitive therapy to promote their cognitive skills. The only difference was that therapists conducted the therapy alone for one group of patients whereas robots helped them for two other groups. One robot was in the form of a seal and the other in the form of a short human being.

Patients less apathetic

The degree of apathy as measured on a defined scale was compared before and after treatment. A striking finding was that the therapy with the humanoid robot was particularly effective and the patients were less apathetic after the therapy. Dr Valentí Soler said there was reason for cautious optimism:

“The improvement was very limited and of course, such a small sample does not allow one to generalise for all dementia sufferers. Further studies with larger patient groups are needed to test the repeatability of the success and draw further conclusions about the degree of improvement. Nonetheless, these first findings are occasion to hope that we are on track to finding a feasible way to care for dementia sufferers.”

The patients’ cognitive state was not able to be improved with robot therapy. This was measured before and after therapy using two tests, the Mini Mental Status Test and the Severe Mini Mental Examination, which was developed especially for patients with moderate to severe dementia. The Mini Mental Status Test even showed a significant decline in the group where humanoid robots were used, whereas the Severe Mini Mental Examination remained the same.

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