An AI avatar designed to teach aged care workers how to talk to people with dementia has won a technology award.

Maree McCabe

Dementia Australia and The Applied Artificial Intellignce Institute (A212) at Deakin University were on Tuesday jointly awarded the Victorian iAward in the Not-For-Profit and Community Solution of the Year category for their avatar ‘Ted’.

Dementia Australia CEO Maree McCabe says Ted, a computer-generated representation of a person with dementia, was developed to enable professional carers to learn how to communicate with people living with the brain disease.

By interacting with Ted online, workers can learn how to communicate effectively with people living with dementia via “trial and error” conversations with the avatar, in what Dementia Australia says is a safe and encouraging learning environment.   

Ms McCabe says the technology represents a big step forward from traditional aged care worker dementia education, which typically involves a classroom scenario with a facilitator and Power Points.

This active learning approach enables ‘Ted’ to make a truly positive difference in people’s lives – improving the level of care and quality of life of those living with dementia

Maree McCabe

“This active learning approach enables ‘Ted’ to make a truly positive difference in people’s lives – improving the level of care and quality of life of those living with dementia,” Ms McCabe said in a statement.  

“This award demonstrates our commitment to utilising world-first applications of serious games and virtual reality technologies as a point of difference, globally and advocating for and influencing changes in dementia policy and practice.”

Incorporating realism

A2I2 Co-Director Professor Kon Mouzakis said Ted was developed using the Unity game engine and his visual expressions and emotions were captured from an actor, using a facial motion capture.

“A preliminary evaluation of ‘Ted’ showed that it helped aged care workers develop increased confidence and a greater sense of just how impactful good communication skills can be on a person living with dementia,” Professor Mouzakis said.

“Our evaluation showed 100 per cent of aged care workers recalled the five principles of positive communication eight weeks after their learning experience – in contrast, only 20 per cent recalled these principles using traditional learning models.”

The iAwards Program recognises Australian innovation and is judged by experts from a variety of backgrounds, including C-level executives, entrepreneurs, capital raisers, commercialisation experts and academics.

 Dementia Australia will compete in the National iAwards to be announced on 17 November 2020.

Ted the AI Avatar Living with Dementia will be launched to market early in 2021.

Innovation in dementia

It’s a double gong for Dementia Australia after the advocacy and information organisation was last week named in the AFR Boss Most Innovative Companies List for its tablet app A Better Visit, designed to help families get the most out of a visit with loved ones living with dementia.

The free app consists of eight two-player games designed to assist communication and positive interaction between people living with dementia and their visitors.

It’s been downloaded more than 6,000 times in Australia and globally, including the US, UK, Canada and France. 

Meanwhile, Sydney has been ranked eighth in dementia innovation out of 30 global cities in a report by the Global Coalition on Aging (GCOA), Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) and the Lien Foundation.

The report, Dementia Innovation Readiness Index 2020: 30 Global Cities, evaluates the readiness of 30 cities to develop and adopt innovations in dementia and aims to uncover where there are opportunities for innovation across the global dementia community.

The index ranked the 30 cities for dementia innovation across
strategy and commitment, early detection and diagnosis, access to
care, community support, and business environment.

London topped the list, followed by Glasgow and Manchester.

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