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GPS to Track Wandering Dementia Patients
Stephen J. Baetge
have been numerous proposals to solve the problem of wandering dementia
patients who go missing every day. But many families and caregivers
are turning to GPS — a U.S. space-based global navigation satellite
system — as a hi-tech solution.
The results of a 10-year collaboration between the Department of Justice and
the Alzheimer’s Association found that wandering is one of the most common,
frequent and potentially life-threatening behaviors associated with dementia
stemming from Alzheimer’s disease.
Wandering is unique to dementia, and it occurs when seniors become disoriented
and lost — even in their own neighborhood or places that are familiar to
them. Wandering is also considered one of the greatest challenges facing Alzheimer’s
Individuals who wander are confused and often unable to ask for help, leaving
them vulnerable. Six out of 10 people with Alzheimer’s disease will wander,
and seven out of 10 will do so repeatedly.
If not found within the first 24 hours, up to half of all persons with dementia
who wander will become seriously injured or die. Information from the Alzheimer’s
Association suggests that nearly 127,000 critical wandering events occur each
Numerous programs exist to combat the problem of wandering dementia patients.
The Alzheimer’s Association operates a government-funded Safe Return program
to help reunite wanderers with those who care for them. In addition, 24 states
have Silver Alert or similar programs designed to help locate wandering dementia
The State of California does not have such a program although it has considered
Silver Alert legislation.
There is also legislation pending to introduce a Silver Alert program on a national
level, but critics contend that the proliferation of color-coded alerts will
reduce their importance, creating a risk that alerts would lose their effectiveness
because of their commonality.
Concerns about the cost of implementing the Silver Alert program on a nationwide
basis have been raised. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that implementation
of the National Silver Alert Act would cost $59 million over a five-year period.
One solution being promoted by advocates is the use of personal GPS tracking
devices to help locate dementia patients within minutes of the realization they
have gone missing.
“Personal GPS devices that can be tracked via an online dashboard can literally
be lifesaving devices,” explained George Karonis, CEO of LiveViewGPS.
“Some devices are so small, they can fit on a keychain, in a pocket, or
they can be sewn into clothing if need be.”
In addition to their small size, GPS devices have numerous other advantages because
of their already widespread use by the public and law enforcement.
“These devices can be tracked online, meaning you can get an exact position
of the GPS holder that is accurate up to the last 20 seconds if they are on foot,” said
According to experts, a personal GPS tracking device should have several features
if it is to be useful in keeping wandering dementia patients safe.
The GPS device should offer online tracking via the Internet. It should also
provide rapid updates so the location reported is accurate.
Long battery life is another key feature, as is a motion-activated power button
so the GPS unit is only using the battery for power when it is in motion.
The ideal GPS tracking device is also portable — capable of fitting in
a hand or on a key chain — and equipped with memory that stores tracking
points for future reference.
“A portable GPS monitoring system can be an invaluable aid for law enforcement
and rescue workers trying to locate missing elderly people before they can be
hurt and providing peace of mind for family members,” Karonis observed.
“When used correctly, it can act as a safeguard against tragedy because
it enables family and police to find a missing person within minutes.”
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