NHS Western Isles to pilot robot to help dementia patients live independently

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Introducing the ‘Giraff’ – a mobile robot with an inbuilt camera, which can be used to set up a vital communication link between people with dementia and their loved ones, and potentially support people to remain in their own homes.

NHS Western Isles, as part of European Union project, ‘Remodem’ - which aims to investigate ways to support people with dementia living in remote rural communities – has embraced the opportunity to pilot the ‘Giraff’ for the first time in Scotland. The Giraff presents a unique way of helping people living with dementia stay in contact with their friends and family, particularly in remote and rural areas.

The Giraff is a 1.5-metre high motorized, two-way video call robot that works in a similar way to Skype. The robot is on wheels and can be controlled remotely via an ordinary PC. Disabled and elderly people can use it to communicate both with carers or family and friends.

NHS Western Isles Chief Executive Gordon Jamieson explained: “This is an interesting idea and we are very much testing new ground here. It is well recognised that care of the elderly in general and the care of people with dementia in particular is one of the major challenges facing most countries in Europe today. By 2035, the Western Isles is projected to have the highest percentage of pensioners in Scotland, at 35 per cent of the total population. With an older population comes both benefits to society and challenges in terms of healthcare, including an expectation that there will be a corresponding rise in the number of people with dementia. For some with dementia, it can at times be a lonely life, particularly if their relatives are unable to visit them regularly.”

In response to this type of issue, researchers created the Giraff mobile robot with inbuilt camera which is designed to facilitate video calls.The Giraff is designed to be kept inside the home of a person with dementia, but controlled remotely by their relatives or carers.

NHS Western Isles Head of Planning Emelin Collier said: “The Giraff is simple to use; it is kept in the home of the person with dementia, and the controls for the robot are with the person’s relative or carer. The relative could call into the robot to effectively waken it up, and the person with dementia would not have to do anything at all. The caller’s face would appear on the screen, and the caller could then navigate the robot through the home of the person with dementia to check that all is well, check medication has been taken, food has been eaten, the person has washed and dressed or just to provide reassurance or have a chat.”

NHS Western Isles is currently identifying suitable clients in the Western Isles to pilot the new technology to assess how well it could support them to live in their own homes, as well as how it could potentially delay or prevent their placement in institutional care.

Studies in Australia have found that people with dementia have responded positively to the Giraff. They find the presence intriguing and are not frightened or intimidated by its presence. NHS Western Isles is the first Scottish Health Board to trial the Giraff.

Gordon Jamieson added: “We are absolutely delighted to have the Giraff here with us to trial and we have high hopes for how it may improve the quality of life for some dementia patients. As a new technology for us, the robot could also potentially be used in many other areas of healthcare to improve quality of care, live access to specialists, and speed up consultations, regardless of location.

“Having seen the Giraff in action, I am extremely impressed with how easily it can be moved around by the ‘controller’ so that you can clearly see the environment of the patient, and can have a conversation and meaningful interaction, regardless of distance.”