The latest in locator device technology helps keep people living with dementia safe
One of the biggest challenges families face when caring for a loved one with dementia at home is the risk of wandering. A person with cognitive impairment has wandered off from where they are supposed to be, and soon emergency services, the media, and eventually the entire community is on high alert, trying to bring the person home safely.
Thankfully, these protracted incidents may soon be a thing of the past. GPS technology is quickly developing as a premium solution for caregivers of people with cognitive disabilities who may be at risk of becoming lost.
“It’s a big caregiver support item,” says Max Jajszczok, executive director, provincial continuing care with Alberta Health Services (AHS). “People can use the technology and feel a sense of relief that their family member is within the designated safe zone that they’ve established for them.”
The GPS locator device is worn as a necklace or in a watch. The caregiver sets a “geofence”— an electronic safe zone on a map. If the person with dementia exits this safe zone, the caregiver is alerted via text or email and (with most models of the device) can contact them via two-way voice communication. The caregiver can also view their loved one’s location in real time.
In March 2013, AHS partnered with a research team led by Lili Liu from the University of Alberta’s faculty of rehabilitation medicine for the Locator Device Project (LDP). The two-year study of GPS locator technologies included 45 clients from Calgary and Grand Prairie with cognitive impairment that had demonstrated a perceived risk of wandering.
“The study found that using the device provided increased independence for clients during activities of daily living,” Jajszczok says. “They could be available to do more and there is a big increase in peace of mind for caregivers.”
Approximately 11 per cent of clients did experience an episode of wandering during the study, and, in all cases, the client was located quickly by the caregiver after the caregiver was alerted through the geofence alert mechanism, Jajszczok says. Several of the individuals in the study were known to police and emergency services for wandering incidents prior to wearing the GPS locator devices. The fact that police and EMS did not have to be engaged for any of the incidents during the study is another key finding, Jajszczok says.
“If GPS technology is something clients are considering, we recommend they speak with their health-care provider about the potential benefits,” Jajszczok says.
SafeTracks GPS Canada Inc., a tech company based out of Red Deer that provided the locator devices used in the LDP, offers a lease program for AHS clients. Jajszczok says clients are not obligated to use SafeTracks, but AHS felt it was important to put a partnership together because there “is definitely a place for GPS technology for home care with the right type of client and their family.”
SafeTrack’s president, Vince Morelli, says it is important to do your homework when looking into GPS personal emergency communication devices. He says to check for certifications such as IC, FCC, PTCRB and SAR, which ensure that the device is safe to wear on an individual’s body and certified to work on a cellular network.
“If the devices are not cellular certified, they can be removed from networks without notice, leaving the individual and caregiver vulnerable,” Morelli says. “Families should make sure that the GPS emergency communication device is not reliant on a cell phone or tethered to a base station. Devices that have a base station limits the mobility of the home- care client and will lose connection when too far away.”
Morelli also says it is important for caregivers to get the individual in the habit of wearing the GPS device during the early stages of dementia, if possible. “This is so the client begins to get used to wearing the device and the caregiver can become familiar with the features and monitoring,” he says. “If the individual’s dementia is too far progressed, the device will seem foreign, and they will not wear it.”
As the technology evolves, Morelli sees a future where significant personal health and safety information is available in real time to individuals, their families and their health-care professionals. “The technology has taken leaps and bounds and continues to move at a fast rate. Whether that is a GPS location in cases of wandering, activity levels, mental illness, notifications of a potential fall, stroke or heart attack or regular checkups for blood pressure and heart monitoring,” he says, “all of this is achievable through advances in technology and data analytics.” [ ]