Storytelling AI to improve wellbeing of people with dementia

An artificial intelligence (AI) companion for people with dementia is being developed in research involving the University of Strathclyde.

The technology will aid memory recollection, boost confidence and combat depression in people living with Alzheimer’s Disease and other types of dementia.

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. While most current rehabilitative care methods focus on physical aids and repetitive reminding techniques, the new project, named AMPER (Agent-based Memory Prosthesis to Encourage Reminiscing) will take an AI-driven, user-centred approach and will focus on personalised storytelling to help bring a patient’s memories back to the surface.

The research team is led at Heriot-Watt University and the National Robotarium, a partnership between Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh. The team was awarded funding by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), including £390,000 to support work at the University of Strathclyde.

To equip novel technologies with capabilities to deliver personalised reminiscence, knowledge from cognitive and computer sciences need to be combined. Systems developed to date have failed to deliver person-centred interventions. AI agents with human-like memory, such as AMPER, will allow recognising, adapting to, and supporting the ever-changing needs of those affected by dementia.

Dr Mario Parra Rodriguez, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, director of the Applied Cognition Lab and Strathclyde’s lead on the project, has developed cognitive-oriented frameworks to equip technologies with capabilities to personalise assessments and interventions. He said: “People with dementia can often find it difficult to communicate with others. This can create a loss of confidence, which in turn can result in withdrawal and depression.

“The aim of AMPER is to assist people in retrieving their memories and we hope this will help to strengthen people’s self-esteem and feelings of belonging, thus leading to better quality of life and prolonging independent living.”

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 day care centre settings, NHS Scotland Neuroprogressive and Dementia Network, Centre for Dementia Prevention, and the Latin American Network for Dementia Research.

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.

UK Government Minister for Scotland Iain Stewart said: "Alzheimer's disease is one of the cruellest and most challenging diseases anyone can face, so it is very encouraging to hear that AI could help treat some of the symptoms of dementia and improve the quality of life for those afflicted.

"The UK Government is investing £21m in the National Robotarium to support world-leading research in Scotland with the potential to improve people's lives everywhere."

The project was led by Professor Ruth Aylett and was originally conceived by Dr Mei Yii Lim, both of Heriot-Watt.