Virtual reminders help with early dementia

virtualA virtual reality tool, developed by Flinders University, is coming to the aid of older people with early onset dementia, improving their quality of life while giving their carers a little peace of mind.

The MANA (Memory, Appointment and Navigation Agent) Calendar is a computer-generated “person” that can remind people of appointments and prompt them to perform routine activities such as eating meals and watching their favourite television show.
It has been developed by Flinders University’s Medical Device Partnering Program with input from Alzheimer’s Australia SA and is the first application of Flinders Thinking Head artificial intelligence research program.

State Minister for Ageing, Jennifer Rankine  launched MANA Calendar at the International Day of Older Persons at the Adelaide Event and Exhibition Centre.

Professor David Powers, the MANA Calendar project team leader, said older people with early onset dementia often are cared for at home.

“The carer may be a spouse, child or aged care caseworker who isn’t necessarily present to provide care round the clock,” Professor Powers said.

“The MANA Calendar allows the carer to create a schedule of appointments and activities using Google Calendars. A computer with an in-built camera, microphone and speakers is set up in the home and, at a specified time, the head on the screen will ‘speak’ a reminder,” he said.

“Because it can respond to movement in the room and understand vocal acknowledgements of its reminders, the Thinking Head is very human-like.”
The users of the MANA Calendar can choose either a male or female head, based on types preferred by focus groups.

Marie Alford from Alzheimer’s Australia SA said the technology would give comfort to carers who may otherwise feel they cannot leave the house for extended periods of time and offered an opportunity for increased independence for people living with dementia.

Over the next six months, Flinders University and Alzheimer’s Australia SA will conduct a trial of MANA Calendar in the homes of people living with early onset dementia.

It is anticipated that the MANA Calendar will be available in the first half of next year.

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