Catalyst Awardee

Project Description

Joy for People Living with Dementia using a Virtual Assistant

Lisa Fournier, Doctorate | Texas State University
Competition Sponsor: US National Academy of Medicine
Award year: 2021

“Joi” is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) Virtual Assistant to improve emotional well-being and independence for people living with dementia (PLWD), especially those aging-in-place. A positive emotional atmosphere is important for PLWD to thrive and age well. This can be facilitated by creating a joyful environment. This project seeks to investigate whether a virtual assistant can help create such an environment for the PLWD. Joy is a moment in time, not a mood. Joy is linked to dopamine systems that reward the brain when having a positive experience, as well as reinforce behavior, motivating a person to repeat an activity. According to Dr. Allen Power, being joyous is a durable strength that can help PLWD grow and rise above the challenges of cognitive disabilities by providing meaning, positivity, happiness, contentment, pleasure, and resilience. The Virtual Assistant (VA) creates personalized “joy pops” for the PLWD within a smart-home living environment. The “joy pops” by the VA are triggered based on input from sensors in the smart home, including motion, sound, temperature, and light. The smart home environment is designed and personalized for the PLWD to provide a comfortable and moderately stimulating environment to reduce agitation, apathy, and anxiety. Most virtual assistants or technology solutions for PLWD, which are limited, focus on social connection or safety. However, this can clash with the PLWD quality of life, feelings of independence, and ultimately their well-being. Rapid prototyping methods will be used throughout the 12-month project, in collaboration with people living with dementia.

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