IoT could help seniors with dementia

A chain of Ontario-based retirement homes is looking to add sensor bracelets to its Aruba Wi-Fi networks, internet of things devices that will track whether residents are starting to wander away from the facilities so staff can intercept them.

Jon Gold Mar 29th 2018

The internet of things is also, in part, the internet of people, particularly in the plans of an Ontario-based chain of retirement homes and long-term care facilities called Schlegel Villages.

The company, which is based in Kitchener, Ontario, designs its facilities to be less institutional-looking and more friendly, preferring to call them “villages.” But it’s got a problem to deal with, one all too common to the elderly – dementia.

According to Schlegel’s IT director, Chris Carde, it’s a serious issue.

“It’s crazy with dementia – some of them can remember the [door-lock] code to get out, but can’t remember anything else,” he said, noting that a confused senior wandering out into a southern Ontario winter can be a serious, even fatal, incident.

So Carde turned to the company’s wireless hardware provider, Aruba Networks. Schlegel has more than 2,000 Aruba APs across its facilities, which Carde manages with a staff of just three other IT pros.

“I think we’ve ironed out a lot of our major issues,” he said. “It took us about a year to deploy it, but we’ve fully migrated all our sites to Aruba … and now we’re just slowly adding more, as new retirement buildings are being built.”

Part of the reason they went with Aruba/HPE in the first place was because it had location tracking technology baked in, and the plan is to give vulnerable seniors tracking modules – possibly belt clips or bracelets – to track if any residents start to wander away.

“If we had this GPS locator, we could probably get an alarm ahead of time that someone has left the building,” he said. Asset tracking is also in the works, although Carde has other projects on which to spend limited staff time.

Schlegel Villages is also implementing an e-health system to replace paper charts at its care facilities. Previously, said Carde, nurses would have to write down a patient’s vital signs, then enter them into a desktop computer some distance away. The new system, which will use iPads and iPad minis to enter health information directly into the database, is being greeted warmly by clinicians.

“They’re happy when IT guys show up, because they know what we’re bringing – staff are over the moon with it,” Carde said.

Schlegel’s also working on replacing a badly outdated system of user authentication – users have to input their usernames and passwords directly into the wireless cards on their machines – with Active Directory and, eventually, the Aruba ClearPass network-access control platform.

“Let me tell you – it does not work. It always breaks,” he said. “Our challenge right now is that, although we have this awesome Wi-Fi, it doesn’t look amazing yet, because people still have problems connecting.”