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GPS Technology, Memory Loss and Our Seniors

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By Kathy Finley, Director of Family Services at Concierge Care Advisors

The number of people living with dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease is expected to rise to 75.6 million by 2030, and 135.5 million by 2050. Dementia and other similar conditions often cause older adults to become confused or lost in both familiar and unfamiliar places.

When I worked in the Assisted Living /Memory Care communities about 10 years ago we had bracelets with sensors to place on the resident’s wrist. If they tried to exit the building an alarm would go off at the front desk or the nurse’s station and we could redirect the resident back to another activity. The problem was that this bracelet was useless if the resident got outside further than 20 feet from the door. I have many stories of running down sidewalks or even getting in my car to track down wayward residents who previously had no wandering issues. I even had to board a local bus to escort off a resident who claimed he was only going to the casino. I had one resident that was so crafty at removing the bracelet that I came up a way with to sew the sensor device into his jacket!

If you are concerned about your aging loved one becoming lost or disoriented at times you may want to consider utilizing a GPS locator or a wearable device to track their whereabouts and find them in an emergency. The development of GPS medical alert systems has changed the way the elderly receive around-the-clock care while living at home. The changing technology does offer comfort for caregivers and autonomy to the elderly.

There is a lot of controversy regarding GPS so you need to educate yourself as to why, when and where you might utilize this technology with family members with dementia. Some benefits to using a GPS device include:

  • Each wearable and/or mobile device can provide targeted monitoring and unique data collection
  • The device can notify that an individual has left a designated area (home or property)
  • In an emergency, the devices can connect to the appropriate emergency responders
  • If the wearer is lost, the devices can guide them to their desired location
  • Some problematic issues to using a GPS device:
    • Each device requires the user to wear the device or to carry his or her phone with them at all times.
    • The devices, if not charged or properly powered, could provide misguided safety.
    • Requires multiple users to actively use and monitor tool/device.
    • The tool does not lead to action without a predetermined plan of action, especially in an emergency.

Those that have utilized a GPS monitor for loved ones have noted that it does offer the ability for both the wearer and caregiver with the ability to live a relatively independent life and remain connected in case of an emergency. But some also have realized that you can over-rely on the device when you are not aware of the battery life, or your loved one simply removes the device or leaves it at home. There are also the concerns of less personal interactions with caregivers or family members to provide the personal and emotional contact needed.

Things to consider before purchasing a GPS device:

  • What kind of device is the best for his/her current circumstances? Examples are a vehicle tracking device if still driving, or a wearable device.
  • Will your loved one be open to wearing a device? Privacy vs Security.
  • What features are available? Geofencing, SOS buttons, two- way calling and voice monitoring.
  • Expect a monthly fee but be sure to understand all the costs involved.

Here are some companies that offer different levels of security depending on your specific needs. AngelSense, Pocketfinder, iTraq, Trax, Spy Tec, Ypezon, SPOT, GPS SmartSole, Trackimo and Medical Guardian

My brother and I had a scare that let us know that our mother’s dementia was getting worse.   A few years ago, our mother had mentioned that she wasn’t feeling well but her regular doctor didn’t have an opening that same day. We were doing our regular calling (her home phone, she never learned how to use a cell phone) and we couldn’t reach her. She was living in an independent senior community. I called the front desk and asked if they had seen her. They said that she had ordered a taxi to take her to a medical clinic that she had never been to before (She saw an advertisement for Urgent Care Clinic in a different city). We always took her to appointments, so we knew something was very wrong. We were able to track down the clinic that she went to and were able to meet up with her there. We were very lucky to find her. Because of her confusion, the clinic almost had her admitted to the local hospital. A GPS device would have been very helpful back then.

So, this article’s goal is to get you to get the conversation going with family members and start researching the best way to keep your independent, active loved one safe.



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