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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
After wearing the tag for 30 days, each Shady Palms participant was given a short test known as the Mini-Mental State Examination. Kearns and his team then compared the movement data collected from a particular RFID tag with the corresponding participant's exam results. What the researchers found is that residents whose exam indicated mild cognitive impairment, consistent with early dementia, also showed patterns of wandering. To ensure that the study was blind, the test was administered by a gerontology graduate student who was independent of Kearns' team and who, therefore, had no knowledge of whether the residents' movement patterns indicated wandering.

HERMES is now being tested at a second assisted-living facility in Tampa. Kearns hopes the results at that location will reinforce the findings from Shady Palms. He has also submitted a report on the Shady Palms test to a medical journal.

The university, Kearns notes, hopes to license HERMES to a third party that will market the system to assisted-living facilities. He envisions that the facilities would purchase the system and then offer the tags and tracking service, for a fee, to any residents who wished to have their movements monitored.

Robert Bennett, the administrator of Shady Palms, says the test did result in one resident who participated in the study being placed on a drug regimen designed to stave off dementia. Still, he says he's not sure that using the HERMES system on an ongoing basis could compete in price with having a counselor periodically visit the site and offer the Mini-Mental State Exam to all residents. Thus, he says, HERMES would need to offer Shady Palms more than just alerts regarding residents exhibiting early signs of dementia.

A system based on HERMES could provide location tracking for residents deemed likely to try to leave the facility—something dementia patients often attempt. This would issue alerts to staff members if a resident suffering from dementia were to attempt to leave. Shady Palms, however, is already using a different RFID-based system to monitor its residents' locations.

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