Anne has a friendly face and a pleasant voice. She is a personal assistant, organizer and guardian who supports people with dementia in their everyday lives, allowing them to live independently in their own homes. Anne is a virtual assistant avatar. She is being developed by several international partners, including the Switzerland Innovation Park Biel/Bienne, within the framework of the major EU project “Living well with Anne”.
Living well with Anne (LWWA) started in 2017 as an EU project (part of the Active and Assisted Living Programme) and is set to continue until 2020. Eight partners from four countries (the Netherlands, Italy, Luxembourg and Switzerland) are cooperating across borders to develop the virtual assistant avatar Anne for people with cognitive problems or dementia. Anne (who appears on a tablet screen) supports people affected by these conditions with tasks such as communication with the outside world, taking medication and organizing their personal schedule by communicating with them verbally.
However, first and foremost, Anne is a minder. The program was developed to use analysis of speech and interactions as well as explicit questions to measure the affected person’s current health status and to alarm the relatives if something is wrong. This means that Anne is a personal assistant not only for the person affected, but also for the relatives, physicians and care staff.Health is everyone’s main concern.
Health is everyone’s main concern.
Since it has so far proved difficult to gain acceptance for technological health products on the market for private individuals, Seline von Bergen, the LWWA Project Manager at SIP BB, is constantly seeking to cooperate closely with the people affected, the relatives, the experts and the care staff in order to gain a better understanding of the customers and the market and to incorporate these valuable insights into the project. The aim of this is to ensure a seamless transition from research project to marketable company as quickly as possible.
The time is now: Anne will give the people affected more independence and a better quality of life, allowing them to regain their dignity.
Seline von Bergen studied Business Administration at the University of Bern. During her studies she was involved in the youth entrepreneurship and sustainability sector, and subsequently she also broke into the innovation sector professionally. Since 2018, she has been working as a Project Manager at SIP BB. Guided by her social and sustainable values, youthful enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit, she decided not to wait for the future to come, but rather to actively shape it and take responsibility for it.
Why did you take on the Living well with Anne project?
I’m a practical person. I don’t just want to talk about the future, I want to make an active contribution to it – a contribution that changes things and make things better. At SIP BB, I can put myself and my skills to good use in meaningful medtech projects. That’s very rewarding for me.
How do you feel about Anne?
The entire LWWA project is very close to my heart. My mother works in the care sector where she has dedicated herself to helping others with her whole heart. I really admire her for that. My grandmother also developed Alzheimer’s disease relatively young – so unfortunately dementia is a topic I’m very familiar with. Obviously all of this gives me an emotional connection to the project – on the one hand it’s sad, but on the other hand it’s nice because it keeps the memories alive.
If you could program Anne to do anything (whether possible or not) what would it be?
That’s easy: I’d like to program her with a wonderful sense of humor and gratitude! For people with dementia and their relatives, life is suddenly turned upside down – all at once, the simplest things become difficult and tiring, having a conversation becomes complicated and precious people start to withdraw. The communication barriers can lead to hurtful misunderstandings. Every day, people with dementia, their relatives and their care staff achieve incredible things, so it would be great if every so often, someone would tell them: “Thank you. You’re great – just as you are!” And make their face light up with laughter. Of course, dementia is no laughing matter, but during the bad times in particular, we need someone who can not only cry with us, but also laugh with us. Humor is important and it helps.
What can Anne do better than a human?
Anne remains calm. Always. Even if she is asked for the tenth time what day it is, her mood and tone of voice do not change. She remains as friendly as when she was asked the first time. This is a huge advantage. People with dementia have a highly developed intuition and are sensitive to how people are feeling. Just imagine yourself in a situation where the people around you start acting in an irritated manner all of a sudden. You don’t understand why because you don’t remember that you are repeating yourself. The result is that you become more and more reticent. With that in mind, I think that Anne can be a tremendous help to the people affected in terms of developing their self-confidence. In addition, she always has all the important information about all involved parties on hand. In the future, will it be possible for us to care for our parents full-time? Probably not, but we need to at least have the ability to always know how they are and respond accordingly.
Why is Anne a woman?
Various studies have shown that both women and men react better to a female character. Women, and surprisingly also men, seem to feel more at ease with a female character. They find a female easier to accept and are more likely to follow her instructions or suggestions. Perhaps these feelings come from seeing her as a mother figure – a person who takes care of us and wants the best for us.
Text: Seline von Bergen, Project Manager SIP BB, interview: Leila Chaabane, Marketing Communication Assistant SIP BB