September 30, 2022

Roseville, Minnesota — Jill Breckenridge has a new friend at her Minnesota nursing home — but it’s not a person. It’s a special robot named Pepper that can talk and even dance with the residents to keep them active. 

Amid staffing shortages at nursing homes, the robot is part of a pilot program that’s helping seniors both physically and mentally. Pepper’s special power is using new technology to bring up old memories to help dementia patients. 

Breckenridge, 83, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, but when Pepper shows her a video with pictures of her past, the memories come flooding back. 

“I loved my horse, Lucky Strike. And they would get the cart and we put that horse in and he took us to the different rodeos and I always ran first,” she recalled. 

Arshia Khan, a professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth, is the brain behind the robots. 

Khan said she was “almost in tears” after seeing Breckenridge interact with Pepper.

“It was like, that is what I wanted. We are taking them back in time, because they have lost that time,” Khan said. “It’s gone, forgotten. But I’m able to bring that back to them at least for a little while.” 

Breckenridge’s daughter, Sharon Fenn, said she could tell her mother was having “a wonderful time” with the robot. 

“I could tell … when I was watching her. She was beaming,” Fenn said. 

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