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RFID Helps Diagnose Early Dementia

A system developed by researchers at the University of South Florida wanted to determine if an RFID-based system could be used as a diagnosis tool by tracking and analyzing a patient's movements.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Armed with information regarding which residents exhibit a tendency to wander, caregivers can then conduct cognitive tests and possibly establish an early diagnosis of dementia. Early detection is vital, Kearns explains, because some drugs are effective in treating dementia only if a patient begins taking them before brain function reaches a specified level of decay.

From March to October 2008, a group of Shady Palms' residents began to participate in a test of the HERMES system. For 30 days, each wore a wristband containing a battery-powered RFID tag manufactured by Ubisense. A total of 14 residents have participated at different times throughout the seven-month period.

Ubisense's real-time location systems (RTLS) employ ultra-wideband (UWB) RFID technology. The tags emit short bursts of radio pulses over multiple bands of frequencies (6 GHz to 8 GHz) simultaneously. This is different than conventional RFID systems, which operate on narrow bands of the radio spectrum. UWB signals are also transmitted for a much shorter duration than those used in conventional RFID, though Ubisense claims this improves the read rate by making the signals easier to filter from multipath reflections—that is, RF signals reflected from surfaces—than conventional RF signals.

At Shady Palm, four receivers were mounted in the corners of a 25- by 9-meter (82- by 30-foot) room with five entry and exit points. "Persons wearing the tags passed through the room on the way to the dining area," Kearns states, "and provided us a sample of their locomotion in the process."

According to Kearns, Ubisense's tags and receivers were selected because they provided accurate location data to within 6 to 10 inches, and because they maintain accurate calibration for intervals of at least six months. When the RFID-based RTLS system is initially installed, he says, the system needs to be checked and possibly adjusted to make sure it provides accurate location information. Over time, this accuracy can deteriorate, so the system must be rechecked and, if necessary, recalibrated. Kearns and his team checked the tags and receivers at the six-month mark, and found that they still provided accurate location information.

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