Eaton Senior Communities is home to 164 residents and, occasionally, a socially assistive robot called Ryan, now being developed at the University of Denver. In a series of posts, I’m talking to people involved in this fascinating project and getting their perspectives on how this lifelike “companionbot” could benefit seniors living with depression and dementia.
Today, Sarah Schoeder, wellness director at Eaton Senior Communities, shares some of her favorite stories about resident interactions with Ryan.
DW’s Story: Reengaging in the Community
DW struggled with depression after the loss of his wife earlier this year. We no longer saw him smile, and he had begun to isolate, no longer taking meals in our dining room or attending holiday parties. At 93, he had limited access to technology in his lifetime — and certainly not to a robot! What transpired was the old DW returning to us. He smiled and laughed again and was always on time, never missing a session. His daughter was thrilled that her dad was once again engaging in the community, and it lessened the stress she felt when she was away on business. DW will tell you that it “was fun” and that “Ryan helped take my mind off the constant thoughts of my wife. It gave my mind a new direction, you might say,” he said. He felt valued, helping the interns achieve their goals and receiving the opportunity to engage with younger adults.
LW’s Story: Overcoming Depression
LW was another unexpected success. As a younger resident with a higher level of education, I was not sure what to expect. She surprised me when she said that “Ryan understands me; she knows what I am going to say before I do.” LW struggled with depression that was intensified by her recent move to the community. Over the course of the trials, she began to report that moving here had improved her mood, and she looked forward to her sessions with Ryan. She is anxious to further participate in clinical trials and recognizes that Ryan helped her overcome the deep depression she felt earlier this year. I am happy to say that she is now an active community member, participating in many social events and helping her neighbor regain her love of art.
PN’s Story: Making a Friend
PN was thrilled when invited to participate with Ryan. He frequently commented on how beautiful her smile and facial features were. He recalls how he asked her out to dinner, but she declined, saying she was not hungry! PN commented on the variations in facial expressions and quality of speech. He was aware of these features and how it affected his relationship with her. PN looked forward to his interaction with Ryan, and the excitement that followed after his sessions was priceless!
BC’s Story: Seeing His Dream Come True
This resident had studied psychology in the 1950s and had particularly enjoyed the area of artificial intelligence. In his 90s, and highly educated, BC enjoyed seeing the “future” that, years earlier, he could only dream of. After his sessions, he would smile and talk at length about the interactions. It was great to see his mind stimulated and the smile he was well known for return when his health was failing him.
See Ryan from her inventor’s perspective in another blog.