Storytelling AI Set to Improve Wellbeing of People With Dementia

By Joel Davies -

Researchers at the National Robotarium, hosted by Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh, are developing an artificial intelligence (AI) companion that will aid memory recollection, boost confidence and combat depression in people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.  

The idea for the “Agent-based Memory Prosthesis to Encourage Reminiscing” (AMPER) project originated from Dr Mei Yii Lim, a co-investigator of the project and an experienced memory modelling researcher

Memory loss in people with Alzheimer’s disease occurs in reverse chronological order, with pockets of long-term memory remaining accessible even as the disease progresses. Whilst most current rehabilitative care methods focus on physical aids and repetitive reminding techniques, AMPER’s AI-driven, user-centred approach will focus on personalised storytelling to help bring a patient’s memories back to the surface.

Dr Lim explained, “AMPER will explore the potential for AI to help access an individual’s personal memories residing in the still viable regions of the brain by creating natural, relatable stories. These will be tailored to their unique life experiences, age, social context and changing needs to encourage reminiscing”.

Working in partnership with the University of Strathclyde, the team at Heriot-Watt University have been awarded £450,000 of funding by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). The project’s long-term vision is to help demonstrate how AI companions can become more widely used and integrated into domestic, educational, health and assistive-needs settings.

Project partners include the charity Sporting Memories, which delivers reminiscence therapy to people with dementia through video footage in daycare centre settings, NHS Scotland Neuroprogressive and Dementia Network, and the Latin American Network for Dementia Research.

Professor Ruth Aylett from the National Robotarium is leading the research. She said, “One of the most difficult aspects of living with dementia can be changes in behaviour caused by confusion or distress. We know that people can experience very different symptoms that require a range of support responses. Current intervention platforms used to aid memory recollection often take a one-size-fits-all approach that isn’t always suitable to an individual’s unique needs.

“AI technology has the potential to play a pivotal role in improving the lives of people living with cognitive diseases. Our ambition is to develop an AI-driven companion that offers patients and their caregivers a flexible solution to help give an individual a sustained sense of self-worth, social acceptance and independence.

“Through projects like AMPER, we’re able to highlight the many ways AI and robotics can both help and improve life for people now and in the future. At the National Robotarium, we’re working on research that will benefit people in adult care settings as well as across a wide range of other sectors that will make life easier, safer and more supported for people”.

Once developed, the AI technology will be accessed through a tablet-based interface to make it more widely accessible and low-cost. The research team at the National Robotarium plans to separately investigate the use of a desktop robot to determine if there are benefits to be gained by having a 3D representation of a character.

You can find more information about the National Robotarium and the AMPER project on its website

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