New tracking device could keep dementia patients safer

TAMPA, Fla. (Jun. 11, 2008) – Perhaps the greatest concern for those whose loved ones with dementia are being cared for in assisted living facilities (ALFs) – and the greatest concern for the professional caregivers working in those facilities as well – is that those for whom they care will wander away and that some harm will come to them.

A new tracking system – developed specifically for tracking patient movements and identifying potential wanderers or those who may be about to wander from their facility – may help family members and caregivers to breathe a bit easier.

According to William D. Kearns, of the Department of Aging and Mental Health in the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute at the University of South Florida, approximately 140,000 Floridians are being cared for in nursing homes or ALFs.

“In the past five years, the number of residents in these facilities with dementia has increased from 40 percent to 60 percent,” says Kearns. “It’s estimated that six million Americans have dementia and during their illness 60 percent may wander, which can lead to injury or death."

To identify those who may be prone to wandering, Kearns and colleagues have adapted sensor technology to detect various movements characteristic of persons with dementia. They currently have an ongoing study to test the system’s effectiveness.

“Our project will gather movement data from 30 residents who move about in congregate areas within their ALF,” explains Kearns. During waking hours, each resident wears a wristwatch shaped tag and their movements are tracked by Ultra Wideband (UWB) sensor technology installed in the rooms and hallways. The results show changes in movement speed and directions of travel.

“Our results so far clearly show movement pattern differences for each person and stability in an individual’s patterns across days,” said Kearns. “Those normal movement patterns, and changes in movement patterns, can be analyzed by computer programs and may ultimately give “real time” updates to ALF administrators to warn them of a resident’s impending departure.”

Kearns, whose research is funded by the Johnnie Byrd Alzheimer’s Center and Research Institute, says that their study findings will be published soon and that their on-going studies are aimed at perfecting the monitoring technology.

The University of South Florida is among the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of 39 community engaged public universities as designated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. It is one of Florida's top three research universities. USF was awarded more than $300 million in research contracts and grants last year. The University offers 219 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The University has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 45,000 students on campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.

– USF –