The evidence of social robots for people with dementia (PwD) living at home is unclear. The aim was to explore the effects of Coach Pepper (socially assistive humanoid robot system “AMIGO” combined with external tablet-based training) versus an exclusively tablet-based training on quality of life, motivation, cognition, mobility, care dependency, depression, and neuropsychiatric symptoms, as well as the user experience with Coach Pepper.
The study (2019-2020) includes a randomized controlled trial with complementary interviews using content analysis. The intervention group (16 PwD) received Coach Pepper and the control group (16 PwD) an exclusively tablet-based training for three weeks. Data were collected using standardized questionnaires (AES, MOCA, DEMQOL, PAS, TUG, GDS, NPI) and interviews.
In both groups, PwD were >80 years old and mainly female. The mild stage of Alzheimer's was predominant in both groups. The comparison of quality of life (DEMQOL questionnaire) between the groups showed a significantly greater increase in the Coach Pepper group (X̅: 5.48 vs. -0.31; med: 4 vs. 2 points, p = 0.0226). Furthermore, global quality of life increased significantly in the Coach Pepper group (X̅: 0.4 vs. -0.2; med: 1.0 vs. 0.0 points; p = 0.013). All other outcomes did not differ significantly. Main qualitative results: Attitude/feelings - PwD reacted mainly positively to Pepper. The PwD were generally not afraid of Pepper and did not feel repulsed. They found Pepper nice/pleasant and funny. Communication, social contacts - Pepper was received well and integrated as a family member. His presence was not disturbing, more an enrichment. PwD regarded Pepper as a friend, child and contact person. He promoted communication in PwD. The life of PwD “bloomed” and they bonded with Pepper, which caused feelings of sadness after Pepper moved out. Meaningful activities- music and dance activities stimulated PwD particularly positively.
Coach Pepper significantly increased the quality of life of the PwD in the robot group. As the additional qualitative results demonstrate, this increase can be attributed in particular to the promotion of communication and social contacts by Pepper. Further research should focus on the increase of Pepper’s communication skills and program content.