Two Appleton care communities are participating in an innovative program featuring a friendly telepresence robot. But, you might ask, can a robot be friendly?

Yes! This can happen when an artist, staff person, or family member “drives” the robot and uses creative engagement techniques to engage with memory care residents through its screen.

This project, led by Brooklyn poet Gary Glazner, founder and director of the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project, began with a trial run at St. Paul Elder Services (SPES) in Kaukauna in late 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic prevented family members and friends from visiting residents. At their robot-naming party, SPES residents named the robot Rolly.

Through Rolly, residents interacted with Gary, other artists, and family members without requiring staff to hold phones, iPads, or laptops. Rolly could just roll up to a single resident or a small group who then talked with the person on the screen.

During one memorable session with Rolly, a granddaughter joyfully announced her pregnancy to her grandmother. Rolly also participated in holiday sing-alongs and Rolly even invited residents to dance! Rolly also helped residents recite poems with Gary and create their own poems based on Gary’s cues and prompts.

After witnessing the joy Rolly brought to SPES, Gary, along with John and Susan McFadden applied for grant funding to bring a telepresence robot to care communities in Appleton. The Mielke Family Foundation, Inc., Bright Idea Fund of the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region (CFFVR), SECURA Charitable Fund, Jewelers Mutual Charitable Fund, and another CFFVR family fund all supported 3-month robot residencies beginning at Eagle Court Memory Care and then moving to Heartwood Senior Living. Fox Valley Memory Project agreed to participate as the fiscal agent for the project.

These grants provide funds for leasing a robot, training staff in Alzheimer’s Poetry Project methods, and training students and family members to creatively engage with people living with types of dementia. In addition, Dr. Amy Knepple Carney, Assistant Professor of Psychology at UW Oshkosh (and Susan McFadden’s former student) and her research assistants will study the experiences of residents and staff as they interact with the robot.

Since Rolly now resides permanently at SPES, a new robot has come to serve memory care residents in Appleton. Of course, it needed a name so staff at Eagle Court held a robot-naming party on July 19, 2021. John and Susan McFadden attended in person and Gary participated via the robot. After introducing themselves individually to residents, John played his ukulele for a rousing rendition of the “Hello Song,” naming each resident individually. Then, led by Gary, we began the important robot-naming task. Many suggestions came from residents and staff, some of which inspired John and Gary to make up songs on the spot.

Finally, after much laughter and a democratic process of elimination, the robot visitor at Eagle Court had a name: Rosie!

Now Rosie will be a regular participant in creative engagement activities at Eagle Court for the next three months before moving on to Heartwood Senior Living where residents will have their own robot-naming party. Stay tuned to find out what they want to call their robot visitor!

In addition to training staff, students, and family members in the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project methods, Gary will recruit artists from around the country with experience working with people living with dementia. John and Susan will attend sessions in person to provide ukulele and rhythm support as well as friendly greetings and lots of silly songs. We are all looking forward to bringing joy to memory care residents via a very friendly robot

Alzheimer's Poetry Project Gary Glazner on Rosie the Robot

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