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6/11/2004
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Alzheimer's Patients Get Help At Home From Wireless Networks

Wireless networks using sensors and RFID help those stricken live productive lives

Alzheimer's patients and their caregivers this month will begin a 90-day trial of wireless networks in their homes using various types of motion and weight sensors and radio-frequency identification technology. Detection systems that monitor and record patients' daily activities are being installed in 24 homes in Portland, Ore., and Las Vegas through the Proactive Health Research project, founded by Intel two years ago.

The system is meant to help those stricken with Alzheimer's disease live more productive lives at home. RFID tags are placed on items such as teacups, plates, and cabinet doors to monitor routine tasks and determine if a patient is having difficulty. Quarter-size motes, tiny wireless computers, connect disparate sensors embedded around the room. The motes contain tiny processors that gather and transmit the data to a central PC. If the system detects trouble, it will communicate wirelessly with a nearby digital device that can use a PC, television, radio, or cell phone to provide step-by-step audio and visual assistance from doctors or caregivers if required.

Tags don't detect enough motions yet, says Eric Dishman, director of proactive health research at Intel Research.

Tags don't detect enough motions yet, says Eric Dishman, director of proactive health research at Intel Research.
The host PC processes data in real time, letting doctors, researchers, and family members assess cognitive problems. RFID determines the proximity of a patient to everyday home devices so the patient can receive audio and visual directions via the device he or she is closest to when an alert is sounded, says Eric Dishman, director of proactive health research at Intel Research.

Still, there's a kink in the system. Powerful computers and servers are needed to collect mounds of information and compare the data across many households, and solutions are still a few years away. To get an idea of the power the trial network requires, Dishman says, "it brings some of the fastest Pentium 4 processors to their knees, and it only detects about 1/1000 of the motions we'd like it to monitor."

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