An easy-to-use robot allows elderly to age well in the digital world

Elderly people in Cyprus and abroad found themselves more isolated than ever during the coronavirus pandemic. Studies have shown that this lack of social interaction aggravated their cognitive decline.

Enter James, a smart robot, who comes as a house assistant able to detect any decline in the cognitive abilities of older adults and even prevent them with fun games, quizzes and exercises.

“It keeps a score and if it notices a drop in a specific area, for example memory, it will suggest more exercises targeting memory loss,” Marina Polycarpou the managing director of the Materia group social enterprise, the coordinator of the European ReMember-Me project told the Sunday Mail.

This smart system might not be a medical device, but can aid the diagnosis, the director explained, adding that the target users are healthy older adults but also those with mild cognitive impairment.

“It is also able to send an alert to the physician or responsible relative of the user, provided they give their consent.”

In this way, the doctor or relative can access the results through their smartphone and monitor the robot’s use.

“It makes diagnosis easier and offers a specialised programme for cognitive enhancement. It is also a home companion for the elderly person who lives alone,” geriatrician and head of the National Gerontology Centre NGO Marios Kyriazis said.

feature gina geriatrician marios kyriazis pictured with james

Geriatrician Marios Kyriazis pictured with James

The robot comes equipped with a movement sensor as well, so users can adjust it to alert a trusted individual if no movement is detected for a specific amount of time.

It also helps the person to adapt to technology generally and it is something that will become more accessible in the future, Kyriazis added.

James is currently on the third field trial and the final version is expected to launch in the first half of 2023. There are currently six such robots in the island, while the system has been tested by over 70 people from Cyprus but also Romania, Italy and Belgium.

Once the project is completed, people will be able to rent James with a monthly subscription. The robot is worth €10,000.

Overall, local users have reported that they found it easy to use the robot’s tablet.

“The use of ReMember-Me was easy enough,” said a male pensioner in a video published last year with the first users of the ReMember-Me prototype testimonials.

When on stand-by mode, you can activate the robot by saying “Hello James”, then it will greet you back and each user can start speaking with the selected language.

People not only found it user-friendly, but also fun to use.

“I was happy to use the tablet. I was looking forward to use it and play games,” the same pensioner added.

Another user said James gave her something to fill the day. “You do your chores but what else to do, instead of watching TV, this is better, it’s educational.”

Polycarpou’s favourite game was one that features trees. The game first shows you different coloured trees and you have to remember the correct sequence. “I loved it because you can even hear the rustling of the leaves,” she said.

Other games include the well-known matching cards, where you have to flip the cards and pair the identical images.

And IT specialists keep working on the software even during the current final round of field trials.

“The software has been tested and all the feedback has been utilised to improve it,” Polycarpou said.

A new feature that was added during the trials, Polycarpou said, was relaxation and mindfulness exercises after many users reported they experienced anxiety symptoms due to the pandemic.

“We have also added a test to detect depression,” the director said. This test can be adjusted to appear every few months, as to not tire or bore the user.

Another issue that arose during the trials in Cyprus was difficulties with voice recognition, since the Cypriot dialect’s syntax differs from the mainland Greek language.

“This has been taken into consideration and there are thoughts to include the syntax of the dialect in the software.”


For more information