Generating Joy for Patients with Dementia using AI

To keep up with the world’s rapidly aging population, the NAM launched the Healthy Longevity Global Competition, a multi-stage global competition designed to seek out bold, innovative, and breakthrough ideas that challenge the way we think about aging. The Catalyst Award, the first stage of the competition, rewards exciting opportunities that display prospective improvement in the mental, physical, and social well-being of individuals as they age. Lisa Fournier is one of NAM’s 46 U.S.-based Catalyst Awardees. We hear from Lisa, a project coordinator at the University of Southern Indiana, who speaks to the award-winning project aiming to reinforce positive behavior in individuals with Dementia by developing well-being with artificial intelligence.

Lisa Fournier (right) with her mother (left).

Can you share a little bit about yourself?

My background is in entrepreneurship and new product development. I have either partnered with others in new ventures or worked in emerging growth start-ups as an implementer for most of my career. I have also enjoyed mentoring as well as teaching entrepreneurship via workshops and as an adjunct professor. Currently, I am working on my MS in Dementia & Aging at Texas State University.

Please provide a brief description of your innovative idea/project and explain why it is particularly innovative, bold, and/or novel?

Joy for People Living with Dementia Using a Virtual Assistant, or Joi, is a project that considers how artificial intelligence can be used in smart homes to assist people with dementia. Reminiscence interventions, such as photos, are used in conjunction with artificial intelligence and smart technologies to create a personalized home environment. The virtual assistant encourages interactions, called “joy pops,” to promote  positive experiences that motivate a person’s behavior. Most innovations for people with dementia are focused on safety and the unique quality this innovation brings is its focus on positive psychology.

Prototype testing Joi

What inspired you to develop your project? Was your original goal improving health for people as they age or did that become apparent later on in the process?

My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2003. I was her primary caregiver for eight of those years until she died in 2017. Caregiving was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. However, throughout the experience, I got to know my mom in a real way. One day I was trying to figure out what I could do to keep her from being bored and I remembered she had always wanted to be an artist. I bought her colored pencils and tablets. I now have books of her drawings of her childhood house, family, beach scenes, and all types of memories. It made her happy and relaxed. I later found out in my studies that art and reminiscing are very helpful for people with dementia.

How might your innovative idea/project lead to a future breakthrough in the field of healthy longevity?

Joi could help people stay in their own homes longer, rather than go to long-term care. With dementia, sundowning and depression bring a person down to a low point. Reminiscence can help shift that emotional mindset. Once an individual’s mindset has shifted, they might be motivated to do other activities of daily living.

NAM is Seeking Applicants for its 2022 U.S.-Based Healthy Longevity Catalyst Awards!
Applications will be accepted from January 17, 2022, through February 28, 2022 at 11:59 pm EST. Applicants from all fields, backgrounds, industries, and specialties are encouraged to complete the unique and simple 2-page application to earn $50,000 USD in seed funding for their innovative projects.

How do you see your project advancing in the future?

Currently, we are developing a prototype. This prototype needs to be tested and integrated with various smart technologies and into people’s homes for further testing and development of additional features and functions.

We completed a “paper prototype” of Joi in January. This includes the functional requirements, such as user roles, user stories, and conversations based on research. Currently, we are in the process of setting up the development, testing, and demonstration environments as well as capturing conversation prompts about meaningful objects from potential users. A meaningful object is a memento, such as a photo, song, or trinket that can help bring back memories to the person living with dementia. These will be aggregated into a personalized, digital “memory box.”

This work is being completed at the University of Southern Indiana. On campus, we have built out an integrated smart home through a Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program (GWEP) grant. Ultimately, the vision is that the Joi prototype would be integrated into the smart home.

What motivated you to apply to the Healthy Longevity Catalyst Awards? What advice would you have to other prospective applicants?

The idea seemed like a good fit for the Award because it is innovative and is at the start of the prototype exploratory stage. On a personal note, it allowed me to get an idea out of my head and prototype it. Emergent prototypes help entrepreneurs and innovators to look for additional ideas and features to develop scalable products. It was a good cross-over to translate what works from these types of therapeutic interventions into potential products to increase the well-being and emotional growth of older adults.

Lisa Fournier is an entrepreneur, researcher, and a project coordinator at the University of Southern Indiana. She is currently working towards an MS in Dementia & Aging at Texas State University.

Researchers with project proposals can apply here in January 2022 when the Catalyst Award Application opens. To learn more about the NAM’s Catalyst Awardees, check out these stories. For more information about the global Healthy Longevity Global Competition, click here. We appreciate your support in advancing innovative solutions to promote health throughout the human lifespan. Email for questions about the award.

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