Intelligent Assistive Technology and Family Caregivers of People With Dementia: Does It “Work”?


  • Klara Dečman University of Ljubljana



Assistive technology shall promote independence; quality of life; and safety [1]. Intelligent assistive technology (IAT) aims at personalization; providing services under varying circumstances; and handling unpredictable or novel situations. In the case of dementia, assistance can address the caregiver’s increasing involvement as the condition progresses, with consequent changes in the assistance called for. In my thesis, I aim to identify contributions of cognitive science of practical impact for attempts to alleviate the burden of family caregivers of people with dementia through IAT. My guiding questions are: How can IAT address the needs of people with dementia and their carers? What (cognitive) contributions do the users (have to) make, and how can these be identified (i.e., are there tacit ones)? (How) is their cognition changed? How can success be verified, and robustness and safety guaranteed? In short: (How) does such IAT “work” in practice, and is it worth it?

Theoretical Contextualization

I research this topic of high importance through the lens of the 4E (embodied; embedded; enactive; and extended) cognition. According to this view, cognitive processes extend beyond the brain and body and are embedded in the environment [2]; in particular, they span into and across IAT.


In my critical survey, I try to clarify the notions of “assistance” and “intelligence” of IAT, and of the “mind” and “intelligence” of the caregivers. I aim to identify explicit and implicit references to cognitive concepts and paradigms within and across the conception, development, and deployment of such IAT.

Expected Results

I expect my desk research to find that most of the used IAT fail to adapt to the changing cognitive abilities of people with dementia and overall circumstances, resulting in family caregivers adapting to the IAT instead: This may be neither useful nor efficient, requiring a user to redo steps for activity completion more assistance from a caregiver [3], and can also happen outside of user awareness, raising ethical issues.


[1] J. D. Lynn, J. Rondón-Sulbarán, E. Quinn, A. Ryan, B. McCormack, and S. Martin, “A systematic review of electronic assistive technology within supporting living environments for people with dementia,” Dementia, vol. 18, pp. 2371–2435, 2017. doi: 10.1177/1471301217733649

[2] D. Vernon, Artificial Cognitive Systems: A Primer. MA and London, England: The MIT Press, 2014.

[3] A. Mihailidis, J. N. Boger, T. Craig, and J. Hoey, “The COACH prompting system to assist older adults with dementia through handwashing: An efficacy study,” BMC Geriatrics, vol. 6, no. 1, 2008.
doi: 10.1186/1471-2318-8-28