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Kevin Marron

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

An elderly man suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer's disease turns on the stove and then wanders out of his kitchen.

If he forgets to turn it off, he will get a reminder on a pager he carries in his pocket. If he doesn't respond, an alert will be sent to a health care worker or his daughter, even if she is on the other side of the continent on a business trip.

In fact, the man is able to live in his own home and caregivers are able to leave him out of their sight, thanks to a wireless sensor network that keeps tabs on where he goes, monitors his pulse, watches for potential hazards in the home and even tracks whether or not he is taking his pills.

This scenario of the "smart home" is not yet a reality but it soon could be, according to Intel Corp. researchers who are currently developing tomorrow's wireless sensor networks.

Research psychologist Richard Beckwith says the first elements of such a vision are already in place at a seniors' residential complex, where sensors are embedded in walkways, ponds and gardens, so that anyone moving around the campus can be tracked.

The next stage of this prototype, which is currently being installed, is a service that sends a report to a worker if a wanderer starts wandering, he says.

While working on building a prototype of a smart home, Intel researchers are also studying 60 families dealing with some form of dementia in order to map and prioritize the problems that the technology could help address, according to Eric Dishman, manager of Intel's proactive health strategic research project.

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