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AI Chatbots Could Benefit Dementia Patients

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New research published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research demonstrates how chatbots can benefit dementia patients and caregiver support. Despite this potential, the technology is still in its infancy, meaning there will need to be evidence-based chatbots that undergo end user evaluation.

Based on technologies like Alexa or Siri, the medical counterparts can interpret symptoms, suggest resources, and provide emotional support to caregivers.

Vagelis Hristidis is corresponding author and a professor of computer science in UC Riverside’s Marlan and Rosemary Bourns College of Engineering. Hristidis is also founder of healthcare chatbot company SmartBot360.

“Artificial intelligence chatbots have great potential to improve the communication between patients and the healthcare system, given the shortage of healthcare staff and the complexity of the patient needs. This is especially important for dementia patients and caregivers, who keep increasing as the population ages, and face care challenges daily,” said Hristidis.

The Benefits of Chatbots for Dementia Patients

Chatbots can be used for memory training or to stimulate recollections for patients suffering from dementia, and for caregivers, chatbots can provide advice and emotional support. The research, however, found that chatbot effectiveness is only as good as the medical knowledge used in their programming and the quality of the user’s interactions. 

The team of researchers included individuals from the University of Alabama, Florida International University, and UC Riverside. The team identified 501 chatbot apps before taking out those that had no chat feature, no chat with live humans, no focus on dementia, were unavailable, or were a game, bringing the number of apps to 27.

Six Apps Studied

Six of those 27 apps fit the evaluation criteria, and they included CogniCare mobile app, CogniCare (Alexa Skills version), My Life Story, Dementia Types, Build Your Brain Power, and Everything Memory. 

When studying the apps, the team looked at productivity, effectiveness, functionality and humanity, and overall satisfaction. 

After getting the programs started, the researchers found that three of the five apps designed to educate about dementia have a wide range of knowledge and flexibility in interpreting information. Users could interact with the apps in a human-like way, but only My Life Story passed the Turing test, meaning a person interacting with the system couldn’t tell if it was human or not. 

The two apps that did well in regard to ethics and privacy were the two CogniCare apps, which are produced by the same company. The other apps had limitations that could hinder user experience.

The apps are not yet advanced enough to have extended conversations with users, and because of the complex nature of dementia and its symptoms, this could limit education and support from the apps. There are also no assurances that the information programmed into the apps are evidence-based from medical literature, from professional practice, or from more untrustworthy sources on the internet. 

The researchers found that all of the chatbots had promising features, but none are yet likely to be effective at providing reliable, evidence-based information or emotional support. The authors recommended that the development and research into chatbot apps continue to increase, as it holds great potential to benefit dementia patients.

Alex McFarland is a historian and journalist covering the newest developments in artificial intelligence.