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For Improving Elderly Care, RFID is on the Button

Five facilities in Nottingham, England, are sewing RFID-enabled buttons to clothing of dementia patients as a discreet way of making sure garments don't get mixed up.
By Beth Bacheldor
Dec 12, 2008At five elder-care facilities managed by the city of Nottingham, England, RFID-enabled buttons affixed to clothing help staff members track which items belong to which particular residents. The implementation, initiated by the Nottingham City Council (NCC), is designed to help improve the care and experience of elderly clients suffering from dementia, by making sure their clothing doesn't get mixed up with others' garments during the laundering process.

The system, known as Stayput, was developed by Tunstall, a U.K. provider of telehealth-care solutions. Stayput leverages 11 millimeter-sized buttons embedded with passive high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz RFID tags that support the ISO 15693 standard. The buttons, designed to withstand multiple launderings, are reprogrammable and reusable, and can store up to 200 characters, including the garment owner's name and room number, as well as other information. They are affixed using a motorized desktop button applicator, and later removed via a handheld tool. The system also incorporates a handheld RFID reader-writer.

The NCC opted to implement the RFID system as part of a broader effort to support the United Kingdom's Dignity in Care Campaign, aimed at promoting a care system with a zero tolerance of abuse and disrespect. The council first learned of Tunstall's system in 2007, and "the idea was seized upon by our managers," says Kate Fisher, a project officer with the Nottingham City government. "The staff is always looking to develop services to improve the experience of people living with dementia in the community, and in their care facilities."

Central to this mission, Fisher notes, is helping dementia sufferers to preserve their identities, and their dignity as adults. "Staff had previously raised concerns that writing names in clothing or attaching labels was somehow not an appropriate thing to happen to older people," she explains. "It seemed that older people were being treated as we treat children. The Stayput system addresses this issue by providing a discreet and dignified clothing-identification system."

In the summer of 2008, the first implementation of Tunstall's Stayput system was deployed at the Laura Chambers Lodge, an elderly residential home run by the NCC and located in the southern part of the city. The facility has 30 bedrooms, 20 of which are designed specifically for patients with dementia. The center's laundry worker, Sheila James, "is a very committed advocate for the system," Fisher says. "She is able to use her time more effectively in the laundry, and spend more time supporting residents who are able to take a more active part in the care of their clothing, therefore increasing their well-being." Families and residents like the RFID-enabled system, she adds, because the buttons can be easily affixed to clothing and are more discreet.

Since installing the Stayput system at the Laura Chambers Lodge, the NCC has expanded it to the city's four other elderly facilities, and now utilizes it to track and identify clothing for more than 140 elderly clients. The RFID buttons are attached to a resident's wardrobe when that individual is admitted to the facility or receives new clothing.

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