Introducing the Social Robot MARIO to People Living with Dementia in Long Term Residential Care: Reflections

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MARIO is a social robot developed with and for people living with dementia (PLWD) to promote social connectivity and reduce loneliness and isolation by providing access to a number of applications that PLWD can access, via speech and/or touchscreen commands. These applications include My Calendar, which reminds the PLWD about daily schedules and appointments; My Music which provides access to the PLWD’s personalised music and My Memories which gives the PLWD the opportunity to reminiscence by showing them photographs of family, friends and/or significant life events. MARIO was developed, tested and evaluated with PLWD in a long stay residential setting over a 13-month period from September 2016 to October 2017. During the first 5 months of MARIO’s introduction to PLWD, researchers maintained a reflective practice diary. The aims of the study were twofold: (1) To capture the experiences of researchers of being involved in this process and (2) To help identify strategies to enhance PLWD’s engagement with the robot. These reflections were analysed in NVIVO 11.4 using thematic analysis guided by a qualitative descriptive methodology. The following themes emerged from the research: (1) Level of interest in having MARIO present in long-term residential care (LTC), (2) MARIO’s appearance and functionalities, (3) Engaging with MARIO, (4) Researchers’ Recommendations for Introducing Robots in Dementia Care and (5) Impact on researchers. From the researcher’s recommendations for introducing robots in dementia care, a number of key strategies were identified which may facilitate the engagement of PLWD with social robots. These include the use of verbal and/or physical prompting by the robot, lack of distraction, and actively engaging staff members or family members when introducing the robot to PLWD. This work highlights the important contribution of reflective practice to the introduction and development of social robots in dementia care.

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