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RFID Gives Dementia Patients Their Freedom

Thanks to passive tags sewed into clothing, residents at risk for wandering away from the Shady Palms assisted-living facility no longer need to be confined to a secured area.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Feb 10, 2009Roughly 70 percent of the 100 residents at Shady Palms, an assisted-living facility located in Tampa, Fla., suffer from some type of dementia. Because of this, many of them sometimes become disoriented and attempt to leave the facility.

"They'll say, 'I'm leaving; I need to go home now,'" says Robert Bennett, the facility's administrator. This tendency to flee, referred to in the industry as "elopement," poses a significant threat to the health and safety of the ailing residents, he explains, and also presents a serious liability threat to the facility. But Shady Palms has installed an RFID-based tracking system—which Bennett refers to as "the best thing since sliced bread"—that alerts staff members if a resident suffering from dementia attempts to leave the facility.

Robert Bennet
Bennett is enthusiastic about the RFID system because it enables him to offer residents and their families a new housing option. Previously, he says, when residents showed signs of dementia and attempted to leave the grounds, he had no recourse but to confine them to a section of Shady Palms in which all exits are locked. There, residents are closely monitored and unable to partake in all of the activities available to those living in the facility's main section. "When [an individual] becomes at risk for elopement, I can't take that risk," Bennett says.

Now, residents who exhibit a tendency for elopement but are otherwise well enough to remain in the main residence section have an alternative. These individuals are outfitted with RFID tags that trigger alarms if their wearers approach boundaries or exits.

Ted Kostis, president of RFID systems developer and integrator Silent Partner Technology, designed the RFID implementation for Shady Palms by selecting off-the-shelf tags and interrogators, and devising a means of integrating them unobtrusively into the facility, while also creating software that triggers alerts to employees based on specific read events. He recently founded Guardian Angel Carewear, a Florida-based company that develops and sells solutions to meet the needs of elder- and health-care providers.

While RFID has become a popular tool for monitoring the whereabouts of residents at nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, Kostis says he has taken a unique approach to the Shady Palms solution, based on Bennett's specific requests. In the process, Kostis says, he tested a wide range of tag types—including low-frequency (LF) passive tags, ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) passive and active tags, ultra-wideband (UWB) tags and acoustic tags—from a long list of manufacturers.

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