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June 2016

Unique project for veterans with brain injuries

Enables vets to relearn daily tasks and resume normal functions

Veterans with traumatic brain injury (TBI) are relearning everyday skills to plan, organize and complete what were once routine tasks. The breakthrough is thanks to advanced technology being tested by the Tampa VA Medical Center.

Known as Smart Home, the unique project is being tested at five apartments housing 10 veterans. Patients and VA staff wear wrist tags linked to a real-time location system that tracks them using wall sensors. Appliances in the apartment, such as the washing machines, are also equipped with sensors.

In addition to tracking the veterans' locations to within six inches, the system also monitors their use of appliances so if a particular task, such as doing a load of laundry, is not completed, a text message or nearby video screen can prompt them on the next step. The system can also notify a caregiver if an activity is unfinished so appropriate assistance can be provided when necessary.

The "ultra-accurate" wideband tracking technology promotes veterans' independence by providing reminders for managing daily activities such as shaving, taking medication, planning a meal, emptying the trash, and other necessary tasks. As an example, sensors in the bathroom determine how long a patient has been shaving. If they are taking too long, they are prompted to finish that task and move on.

Jan Jasiewicz, PhD, the researcher at the hospital's Health Services Research and Development Service and manager of the Smart Home project, said a powerful feature of the VA Smart Home is the precision of the customized therapeutic information that can be provided to the recovering veteran. Continuous recording and analysis of every interaction helps clinical and medical staff visualize subtle but therapeutically significant behavioral changes.

Weekly reports are generated for the clinical team, according to Jasiewicz, whose expertise is in the application of sensor technologies. This helps to better inform treatment plans and potentially prevent problematic medication effects on veterans' memory, as well as gait and balance. Researchers say it also helps reduce caregiver burden.

Smart Home has been described as a "cognitive prosthetic" with the goal of rehabilitating veterans with TBI so they can function normally in society. The Smart Home innovation recently received third place in VA's Brain Trust summit. The national summit brought together the public and private sectors, veterans, caregivers, clinicians and innovators to tackle the issues of brain health.

The VA's system, developed by Ubisense of Cambridge, England, piggybacks on work Ubisense did at the University of South Florida in 2009 to track Alzheimer's patients. The global leader in enterprise location intelligence solutions helps manufacturing, communications and utility companies improve operational efficiency and boost profitability. The company is headquartered in Cambridge, England, with operations in North America, France, Germany and Japan.