I Just Want to Take a Walk!

Early Global Positioning System
Early Global Positioning System (Photo credit: Chris Hunkeler)

A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia can be frightening, costly and life changing.

I often remind people facing the disease that it can be quite slow-moving in early stages, and that managing the symptoms of memory loss can be achieved with less intrusion.

However, reacting to, and planning for transient symptoms during times of stress, pain, and emotional duress becomes an unfortunate and necessary focus for care planning that is costly, limiting, and intrusive.

Planning for dementia care is like your annual review at work being based only on your single worst day of the year.

I am hopeful that technology will solve some of the problems raised by transient symptoms plaguing otherwise highly functioning dementia sufferers. Applying technology could actually increase independence and quality of life for people suffering from dementia, and potentially alleviate some of the financial toll on families, and the health care system.

Safely allowing people at risk of getting lost while taking a walk is one problem that seems easily solved with existing and available GPS technology.

Here is the scene: an alarm on the front door of an assisted living community goes off. A staff member runs outside to intercept an annoyed elderly resident. Imagine the staff pleading with a person, who has decades more life experience, and accomplishment, that they aren’t allowed to go outside alone, and additionally, that no one is available to go out with them immediately. Not empowering at all.

It seems a stretch to refer to GPS technology as fantastic, since at this point it seems a bit mundane, even to severely directionally challenged people like myself. Yet despite widespread use and availability of GPS in other applications, I don’t know of any assisted living communities employing this technology. Barring a person with a substantial risk for fall and severe confusion, use of GPS technology seems like the least intrusive way to maintain feelings of independence, empowerment, and freedom. A recent study from SINTEF, the largest independent research organization in Scandinavia, reports that despite criticism over of this type surveillance, their study is less intrusive than alternatives, provides families piece of mind, and allows dementia sufferers “increased levels of freedom, mobility and independence.”

This is far from a new idea, so why aren’t we seeing more of it?

It is difficult to maintain independence in the face of a scary diagnosis, annoying alarms, and varying levels of “house-arrest.” But perhaps safety and peace of mind can be achieved by employing technology in a few new and obvious ways.


GPS Tracking and Dementia – SINTEF Press Release


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