The EU is funding a multi-country partnership to build robots that can look after dementia patients. The MARIO robots stave off cognitive decline and loneliness by talking to patients, showing them movies and monitoring their state of mind. There are an estimated 8.7 million people living with with dementia in the EU.
Results & Impact
In 2013, there were an estimated 8.7 million people in the EU with dementia. The MARIO robots are expected to be ready to assist patients and caregivers by 2018, at which point organisers hope to bring them to market. The robots can verbally interact with patients with voice-activated software, which supports dementia patients’ memory recall and cognitive skills, and can undertake a mental health assessment
National University of Ireland Galway, Robosoft Services Robots, R U Robots, Ortelio, Stockport Council, The National Research Council, R2M Solution, IRCCS Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, Caretta-Net Technologies, Universität Passau
MARIO received a grant from an EU research and innovation programme, Horizon2020, in 2015 to build Kompai-2 robots that improve dementia sufferers’ quality of life. MARIO robots can verbally interact with patients using voice-activated software, and have applications tailored to each user. They support dementia patients’ memory recall and cognitive skills, and take some of the burden of care off health professionals. The MARIO project is run by a consortium of Irish, French, British, Italian and German developers, schools, nursing programs, robotics firms, social care programs and hospitals
Ireland, United Kingdom, Italy, France, Germany
The elderly, patients
Cost & Value
MARIO received $4.3 million in Horizon2020 funding over 3 years
The MARIO team initially found it difficult to agree on priorities for the robot, but overcame the problem by working directly with dementia patients to identify their needs. Project coordinators also worked with caregivers to allay concerns that the robots would replace them
An EU-funded partnership is building robots that improve the cognitive skills of people who suffer from dementia – and help to ease the loneliness that often goes hand-in-hand with the disease.
The MARIO project is run by a consortium of Irish, French, British, Italian and German developers, schools, nursing programs, robotics firms, social care programs and hospitals. MARIO received $4.3 million funding from Horizon2020 in 2015 to build Kompai-2 robots that improve dementia sufferers’ quality of life.
“Often, people with dementia tend to with withdraw. They stop participating in community life. That’s a problem, because isolation compounds dementia: the disease gets worse, and [their health] declines more quickly,” said Kathy Murphy, the communications officer for MARIO and a professor at the University of Ireland Galway.
In 2013, Alzheimer’s Europe estimated that there were 8.7 million people in the EU living with with dementia.
“Looking at the funding situation and future increases in dementia, we realised that solutions weren’t going to come from expanding the number of nurses or carers. We wanted to look at more innovative solutions – and that’s why we developed MARIO. The idea came from working with people with dementia, and trying to look at what’s sustainable in the long term,” said Murphy.
MARIO robots can verbally interact with patients with voice-activated software, which supports dementia patients’ memory recall and cognitive skills. They have special applications designed to meet their users’ needs, such as a “My Hobbies” module with personalised music, news and games. The robots allow patients to live more independently by giving them the freedom to watch a movie or play a game without having to wait for a caregiver’s assistance.
The robots also have the ability to undertake the Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment, a test that measures an older person’s medical state and mental capacity. The assessment takes health care professionals about 30 minutes to complete.
“MARIO is special because it has actually been driven by people with dementia – we even have representatives on our board with dementia. We’ve shaped MARIO around what people with dementia say they need, and what their carers say they need,” said Murphy.
Initially, the team behind MARIO found it difficult to reconcile different ideas how the robots should interact with patients. Robots professionals, software developers, nurses and academics all had unique perspectives and expectations for the project. By bringing dementia patients into the process and hearing about what types of care they needed, the team was able to narrow its goals.
The other major challenge faced by the team was concern from dementia carers that MARIO robots would take their jobs. The project staff took great pains to work with them and explain their view that the initiative is not about replacing people – it’s about augmenting care, and supporting health professionals.
A pilot project began in August 2016, and will run until August 2017. Eleven robots are being trialled in different capacities in Ireland, the UK and Italy. The robots in Ireland are being tested with patients living in residential care, while the UK robots are installed in individual homes. The robots in Italy undertake the Comprehensive Geriatric Assessments.
According to Murphy, the pilot is focused on “acceptability” – whether people react favourably to living amongst robots. The results so far have been positive: “People with dementia like Mario; they find it fun. We were surprised that more people did not find it odd having a robot around. But MARIO provided a real focus for grandparents and grandchildren – it gives them something very exciting to come in and visit.”
The MARIO robots are expected to be fully operational and ready to assist patients and caregivers by 2018, at which point organisers hope to bring the robots to market. They expect each MARIO model to cost from $5,400 to $7,550 to build. Project coordinators are currently working on building out new functionalities for the robot, including “My Community” and “My Social Network” features.
(Picture credit: MARIO)