Manitoba researchers look at using robots to help people with dementia

Manitoba researchers are exploring whether robots can make life easier for patients with dementia and their caregivers. 

Research aims to find out if robots can help patients connect with their caregivers while they're away

Manitoba researchers are exploring whether these robots can help dementia patients combat loneliness, while easing the burden on their caregivers. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC News )

Manitoba researchers are exploring whether robots can make life easier for patients with dementia and their caregivers.  

The project will use telepresence robots to enable two-way communication for the caregiver and the person they are caring for when the caregiver is out-of-home.

A telepresence robot uses a video-camera, screen, speakers, and/or microphones to connect the person/people interacting with the robot view and hear its operator, while allowing the operator can simultaneously view what the robot is seeing and hearing. 

The goal is to see if the robots can help combat loneliness among dementia patients, while also helping caregivers maintain a career, home and family life, explained Dr. Reg Urbanowski, the project's lead researcher and dean of College of Rehabilitation Sciences in the University of Manitoba's Rady Faculty of Health Sciences.

The robots are equipped with cameras, screens and microphones to help people communicate with one another while apart. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC News )

"We have technology that we can use to be innovative in the ways that we're reaching out and supporting people, and I'm really hoping that this is what this project will do," he said a news conference Thursday at Winnipeg's Victoria General Hospital. 

"That's the outcome that we want. And it'll help Manitobans."

The robots could also allow people to stay in their homes longer rather than living in a long term care home, which will save the healthcare system money, Urbanowski said. 

The project is getting a total of $360,000 in funding from the provincial government and the Victoria General Hospital Foundation. 

The foundation and the province are also spending a total of $110,000 on a health research competition to begin this fall.