Caregiver software to guide mentally impaired patients

Researchers in Scotland are developing software that verbally prompts people with cognitive impairments on how to do everyday tasks.

Dr Alex Gillespie and Dr Catherine Best of Stirling University’s Department of Psychology and Dr Brian O’Neil from the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust have received funding from the Chief Scientist Office of Scotland to develop the technology, called ‘Guide’, for patients with brain injuries, dementia or mental-health conditions.

The software mimics the way caregivers talk patients through routine activities. Guide monitors user’s progress by verbally prompting and asking questions, then receiving verbal answers.

In its current prototype form the Guide software runs on Windows XP-enabled PCs. If the technology were to be set up in a user’s home, it would require fitting speakers and microphones in strategic areas where a routine task might take place.

When ready to make a cup of tea, for example, a user will hear from a speaker in the kitchen: ‘Is there water in the kettle?’ and then: ‘Is the red light on the kettle illuminated?’ and so on. For each question, users can respond verbally, saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’. A microphone will pick up the answer.

The PC software will decode the answer using a voice recognition program. According to Dr Best, the software has a ‘decision tree’ or protocol specially designed for the given task.

‘To date we have developed protocols for making tea, making a smoothie…and transfer from a wheelchair to a bed,’ she said.

Dr Best stressed the technology is not intended to replace human carers; instead it is aimed to take some of the ‘mundane repetitive nagging elements out of caring relationships’.

‘The people who will use Guide will have difficulties with memory, sequencing everyday tasks and planning,’ she said. ‘This means that carers may have to say the same things to them repeatedly, which could be detrimental to their relationship. Guide could take over some of this repetitive prompting function, freeing user and carer to have more positive social interactions.’ 

In its final commercial form, Dr Best said Guide could be designed to be portable and PDA-based. The group will market the technology for use within the NHS as well as private and voluntary organisations.