Robotic Homes Are Helping Those with Alzheimer's Remain at Home

Dorian Martin Health Guide

    Last Thursday evening, I tuned into PBS's News Hour with Jim Lehrer to catch up with the latest news across the world. One of the segments quickly grabbed my interest - homes with robotics designed to help care for the frail and elderly, especially those who are not able to care for themselves.


    This story focused on Pittsburgh's effort to rebuild itself as a technological center. A portion of the segment features D.J. Stemmler, who has spinal care injuries and who has a son with cerebral palsy. In addition, D.J. is the primary caretaker for her mother who has Alzheimer's. The home full of robotic technology not only helps D.J. handle day-to-day tasks related to her own injuries and her son's situation, but also helps her monitor her mother's medication and whereabouts.

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    The house's technology is designed to automatically remind loved ones with Alzheimer's about when and how to take their medications. As part of the demonstration featured in the PBS segment, you can hear the robot tell the person opening the drawer, "Medication door open."  A color-coded system enables the loved one to identify which medication to take. And after the loved one picks up the identified medication, the robot coaches, "Thanks for getting your medication. Now don't forget to take a glass of water and swallow all of your pills. If you don't, I'm going to have to call the caregiver." The system also alerts the caregiver if the water is left on.


    The PBS feature also described the Quality of Life Technology Center, which is a joint project between Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. In this project the "smart home" learns the daily patterns of loved ones who have demenia and can intervene if the loved one forgets what he or she was originally planning to do.


    This news segment offers a window into the latest technologies that scientists are trying to develop to help those with dementia remain at home. It's always been exciting to see the ways that technology can enhance our lives in the day-to-day world, but it leaves me awestruck to see how technology is being developed that can assist families with providing at-home care for those with Alzheimer's.

Published On: April 28, 2008