AI is paving the way for inclusive futures by offering transformative solutions for individuals with cognitive disabilities.
SwissCognitive Guest Blogger: Artem Pochechuev, Head of Data Science at Sigli – “How People With Cognitive Disabilities Can Benefit From AI-Powered Solutions”
Cognitive disabilities are among those things that people prefer not to discuss, especially when they have faced them in their families. But it doesn’t mean that this topic should stay without social attention. Vice versa, it can be viewed as an alarming sign that these people do not receive enough support. And it is one of the main key indicators that show us how important it is for society to find tools, solutions, and approaches that will help people with cognitive disabilities and their families cope with related difficulties.
Cognitive disabilities: Basics
So, what do we mean when we mention cognitive impairments? This term is used in relation to a wide range of conditions. It includes but is not limited to mental illnesses, autism spectrum disorders, intellectual disability, brain injuries, Down syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, and other dementias.
These conditions can greatly affect various cognitive skills, such as attention, short-term and long-term memory, logic, and reasoning. Among other issues, we should also mention the ability of people’s brains to handle different types of information. While there are states that affect math or language processing, some others can affect brain processing abilities even in a more severe way which will prevent people from general understanding of reality and the world around them.
The impact that cognitive disorders have on people’s lives can be different, depending on the type of disorder that we are talking about and its severity. While some disorders may stay practically unnoticed by other people, in some cases they may have a strong influence on individuals’ ability to communicate and interact with their surroundings. Their speech, behaviors, and reactions to different events may seriously differ from social norms. They may have problems with fulfilling even simple routine tasks. Such conditions lead to their dependence on their tutors and families while the lack of proper control and assistance may result in negative consequences for their health and even lives.
It means that when we are speaking about supportive tools for people with cognitive impairments, we should also talk about solutions for those who take care of them, who teach them, who help them with their everyday tasks because it is very hard work. But we are quite sure that modern technologies can be of great help in this context.
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In one of our previously published articles, we discussed the power of Artificial Intelligence in making the learning process a more enjoyable journey for both students with learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, and their teachers. And in this article, we offer you to consider how AI can help to facilitate a lot of processes for people with cognitive impairments, their families, nurses, and tutors who directly interact with them.
Traditional methods vs AI-powered tools
Working with people with cognitive disabilities requires a comprehensive and personalized approach. Traditional solutions are aimed at enhancing people’s independence, developing their communication and social skills, and increasing their overall quality of life. Among these traditional methods, it’s worth mentioning educational therapy with a focus on gamification, behavioral therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy. All these approaches presuppose the active participation of tutors and their holistic involvement in all the processes. In their work, they use such assistive tools as memory aids, visual charts and schedules, picture boards, reminders, etc.
The level of efficiency of all the traditional methods may vary depending on the exact disability, its severity, as well as the skill and qualifications of those specialists who work with people with cognitive impairments. Of course, their contribution and efforts can’t be underestimated.
Nevertheless, we strongly believe that AI-powered tools can greatly increase the efficiency of therapies, optimize the load for tutors and nurses, and make it possible for people with cognitive disabilities to live independently (or at least safely perform a limited set of tasks without external help). All this is possible thanks to the possibility of finding an individualized approach to each person, automating a lot of processes, and conducting a more advanced analysis of symptoms and behavioral patterns.
Let’s proceed to a more detailed overview of AI use cases in the work of people with cognitive impairments.
Advanced research on skills and behaviors of people with autism
One of the main problems that the healthcare industry has to deal with today is the risk of omitting small facts that may have a serious impact on the correct diagnostics. Unfortunately, some details can’t be noticed in a huge volume of information and then processed by a human. However, modern AI tools can successfully address this issue. They can detect even the slightest signals that can be signs of particular disorders and provide doctors with a comprehensive overview of the case.
Very often it may become a real challenge to identify traits of autism, especially in those cases when a child doesn’t need any specific support from adults in everyday tasks. Sometimes doctors need months or even more to get a diagnosis. But the later a diagnosis is confirmed, the later therapies begin which may lead to undesirable consequences.
But AI (and precisely, deep learning) tools are known for their capacity to spot patterns which can be extremely helpful for making the right decision.
One of such solutions is a system called the Naturalistic Observation Diagnostic Assessment launched by an Idaho-based company Behavior Imaging. The company offers an application that provides parents with all the required features for uploading videos of their children to analyze their behavior in a remote format. Behavior Imaging has already started training AI-like algorithms that will be able to categorize behaviors and provide hints to clinicians. It is not expected that the system will make decisions on its own but it will support specialists in their work.
Another example of using AI is creating robots that will interact with children with autism spectrum disorders. They can help kids build social interactions, provide relevant responses in different communicative situations, and identify different facial expressions.
Moreover, today there are already various AI apps that can analyze the skills, emotions, and needs of users and provide personalized practices with step-by-step lists. Though there can be an opinion that their efficiency is lower than what the use of special robots can offer, they have other benefits. In comparison to robots, they are more affordable and easy to use in schools and at home.
AI-powered solutions for people with dementia
As well as in the previously described case, AI is very useful for the early detection of dementia and understanding the pace at which symptoms develop. This knowledge is crucial for appropriate treatment.
But that’s not the only AI use case. One of the main tasks that doctors have in their struggle with dementia is to help people maintain their independence for as long as possible. And here is when supportive tools enter the game.
Today researchers are investigating the possibility and feasibility of mounting sensors around the house to track people’s behavior. If any signs of risky patterns are detected, they will get immediate help. For example, home appliances will be automatically turned off or a nurse will be notified.
AI tools can also provide cognitive support by offering prompts for social interactions or reminders for daily tasks.
Breaking down communication barriers
We’d like to start with an example that is well-known to a very wide audience. It’s highly likely that you’ve also seen the solution used by Stephen Hawking for talking. Due to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, he lost the ability to express his thoughts verbally and could communicate with the help of a speech-generating device (SGD). It could be controlled just with a single cheek muscle. Using this muscle, Hawking selected words and phrases and then they were synthesized into speech practically immediately.
This technology is rather expensive which means that it is not available to everyone. Nevertheless, today there are more affordable alternatives like speech-to-text and text-to-speech tools that are already widely used by people with visual and hearing disabilities. However, not all mental states can allow people to use them.
Another case that can be mentioned in this category is Voiceitt. It is an AI-based tool for augmentative and alternative communication. Thanks to speech recognition technology and AI models, the app can translate unintelligible, non-standard sounds into clear words. As a result, people who have verbal language production disabilities, including those caused by Down syndrome, can communicate with others in real-time.
This AI use case plays a vital role when it comes to tutors and their work.
Educational tools powered by AI can have the relevant functionality for creating specific learning programs based on the individual needs of people with cognitive disabilities. These tools can offer tailored lessons, addressing the strengths and challenges of each person. As a result, it can greatly facilitate such tasks for tutors.
Moreover, some AI-based educational applications can be intended for independent use by children and adults with cognitive impairments if their skills allow them to do it.
With the right training, AI models can demonstrate impressive results in delivering individualized learning programs. That’s why this sphere definitely deserves more focused exploration.
In this series of articles, we are talking about the capacity of artificial intelligence to change the lives of people who face any physical or mental disorders, to help them integrate into society, and enjoy more opportunities that earlier used to be inaccessible to them.
While working with people with cognitive disabilities can be a very sensitive and challenging process, AI is one of the most promising technologies in this field. AI-powered solutions can efficiently analyze huge volumes of data, which is important for making the right diagnosis, choosing therapy, and finding the right approach for each person.
If you have any ideas for such kind of solutions, at Sigli, we will be always happy to cooperate with you and help you with your project realization.
About the Author:
In his current position, Artem Pochechuev leads a team of talented engineers. Oversees the development and implementation of data-driven solutions for Sigli’s customers. He is passionate about using the latest technologies and techniques in data science to deliver innovative solutions that drive business value. Outside of work, Artem enjoys cooking, ice-skating, playing piano, and spending time with his family.