Meet Ted, the AI Avatar Set to Transform Care for People Living With Dementia

News / Anthony Vouliotis / May 6, 2021
Fig 1. Ted, the AI avatar living with dementia, is designed to improve quality of care

Prioritising a high standard of care for older citizens is essential as the Australian population ages. Presently, our aged care system faces multiple challenges. These include a shortage of staff who are burdened with a heavy workload and a limited availability of training programs of sufficient quality. As a result, the lack of understanding in aged care staff of the behaviours of people living with dementia is cause for concern. 

Dementia Australia, the Australian Research Council Industrial Transformation Research Hub for Digital Enhanced Living (DELH) and Deakin University’s Applied Artificial Intelligence Institute (A2I2) are continuing their strong working collaboration by providing an effective solution to this major social issue. Together, they have developed a new immersive experience named Talk with Ted. This innovative tool provides aged care training in a realistic and safe way, to help staff understand the impact communication has on people living with dementia. 

Talk with Ted has been engineered by A2I2 staff from scratch, with the avatar being designed to exhibit the behaviour and emotions that are associated with dementia. At the core of this immersive experience is the ability to have a full conversation with Ted. Trainees must adapt their communication in a way that is empathetic and respectful of the behaviours associated with dementia. 

Dementia Australia CEO Maree McCabe highlighted the pioneering innovation behind Ted’s development. 

Talk with Ted is a world-first in dementia education, and applies a person-centred approach to developing skills, which ensures users learn how to put the individual and their needs at the forefront of every interaction,” Ms McCabe said. 

“The tool allows workers to practice their communication skills in a safe environment, where they can learn from their mistakes and improve their practice.”

In late 2019, Dr. Anju Curumsing led an eight-week study where Ted was trialled with twenty-three professional carers, all of whom were caring for people living with dementia at the time.

“Results from the trial were overwhelmingly positive,” Dr. Curumsing said. “Carers reported that they developed a better understanding of the behaviours associated with dementia and understood how poor communication can trigger behaviour change.”

“Carers also admitted that their interaction with Ted motivated them to adopt a person-centred approach when communicating with people living with dementia.”

Many carers were inspired by their experience with Talk with Ted and incorporated their learning into care practice with patients. The trial findings also show that the majority of the carers prefered the digital avatar to simulated patient sessions. 

This project builds upon the strong partnership that exists between A2I2 and Dementia Australia. A previous highlight includes EDIE, a Virtual Reality tool that enables users to experience life from the perspective of a person living with dementia.

For more information on this project, please visit Dementia Australia’s Talk with Ted page.