Waterloo against Alzheimer’s Disease

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Alzheimer’s Disease is a type of dementia that causes disruptions with thinking, blocks memories and alters behaviour. Around 700 thousand Canadians suffer from the disease, while the worldwide number of Alzheimer’s patients exceed the Canadian population.

Waterloo Region houses Waterloo-Wellington Alzheimer’s Society, which promotes awareness about the condition in the area. The local interest in the society peaked over years, as the numbers of volunteers increased to provide service to people who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Three different committees have been established as memory booster groups to meet at least twice a month.

University of Waterloo leads another effort to study the disease. University’s Murray Alzheimer Research and Education Program (MAREP) is holding a key position in spreading awareness regarding the condition. One of such recent efforts was to ensure farmers of the area that despite the bad news of being diagnosed with disease, it is very important to continue with the disease treatment.

MAREP isn’t the only effort led by university. Group of computer scientists are creating a prototype named ACT@Home, which is a virtual assistant designed to help people with the disease. By keeping track of the host, program aims to gather data and form a personalized portrait, and help with day-to-day activities.

Jesse Hoey, the lead researcher in the project and a professor at the David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science at Waterloo said:

“Convincing a person with Alzheimer’s disease to do something is very difficult because it depends on the person’s interpretation of the situation, what they think is going on, what cues they are getting and who they think they are in that moment.

Ultimately, the research for the prototype is based not only on the gathered scientific data, but also on the interviews with Alzheimer patients. It is their needs and desires that are accounted for this project, as the virtual assistant aims to improve their quality of life in the first place. However, Hoey also mentions that the prototype will significantly decrease the burden on caregivers as well.

Understanding the complexity of the disease proved to be an important step in tying artificial intelligence to socio-psychological models of behaviour. Regarding this, Professor Hoey added:

“This prototype will work by building a model of what’s going on emotionally in the mind of someone with the cognitive difficulty and then prompting them to complete an activity of daily living in a way that makes sense to them in that moment.”

The project already received multiple awards, and if successful, may also help people with Down syndrome, other forms of dementia and brain traumas.

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