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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
The problem Bennett hoped to avoid, he says, was pushback from residents due to the presence of the RFID tag. "People with dementia don't [always] remember what happened 15 or 20 minutes ago," he explains. "And because of this short-term memory loss, a resident might not recall why they're wearing a tag on their wrist or around their neck, or pinned to their clothing. If they don't know what it is, they're likely to remove the tag." So instead of asking residents to wear a wristband tag, Shady Palms is sewing passive UHF EPC Gen 2 RFID tags into the clothing of residents to be monitored.

The tags, covered by a rugged, waterproof casing, are sewn into articles of clothing owned by the residents to be monitored. EPC Gen 2 readers are mounted near doorways. Initially, Shady Palms had added a small, passive 125 kHz LF tag to the soles of the shoes of monitored residents. These LF tags can be read by antennas buried underground, outside building exits and along the outer edges of outside areas surrounding the facility, if a resident crosses these boundaries. However, Kostis says, Shady Palms opted to stop using the LF tags and rely solely on the UHF tags, in order to detect when monitored residents are near a UHF reader mounted near the facility's main entrance and exit.

This system, Bennett says, allows residents to be part of the general population instead of having to be moved to the facility's secured area. When a tag assigned to a monitored resident is read by an interrogator installed near the door, the software controlling that reader (which Kostis and his team developed) e-mails an alert to the appropriate staff members. The workers then receive the alert on their desk computers or—if they carry one—a PDA linked to the facility's wireless LAN.

Cost is another key benefit of the RFID system, according to Bennett. Because of the elevated care for residents assigned to the secured section of the facility, families of those living in this section pay nearly twice as much per month as residents housed in the main facility. However, Bennett notes, residents monitored with the RFID system are charged "just a few hundred dollars more" each month. "Economically," he states, "this RFID system makes sense because the costs of the system are easily covered."

Five residents are currently being monitored with the RFID system, though Bennett expects that number to grow markedly in the years to come, based on the increasing number of patients suffering from dementia in the facility. What's more, he says, Shady Palms plans to expand its use of RFID beyond elopement control.

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