Dementia patients should have location finding devices – like GPS trackers – so that family carers and the police can locate the person in an emergency if they get lost, according to researchers.
They said introducing such devices at a time when a person with dementia was still able to appreciate the benefits and were able to get used to it, so it became habit, could save lives.
“People who saw a direct benefit to using the device were more likely to want to use it”
They noted that about 25,000 dementia patients will get lost repeatedly, doubling their risk of admission to long-term care, and half who went missing repeatedly for more than 24 hours died or were seriously injured.
Their study, published in a charity report, brought together people with dementia, their families and carers with police officers, charities and researchers, to assess the need and impact of GPS trackers.
Part of the research involved talking with people with dementia while they were out walking in the community using their location-finding device, as well as sit down interviews with family carers.
The GPS technology was viewed by them as an acceptable adaptation to aid location for people with dementia, their family caregivers and the police, the report concluded.
“This research shows that GPS technology can have a positive impact on people living with dementia”
Lead study author Dr Ruth Bartlett, from the University of Southampton, said: “With increasing numbers of people with dementia living at home and increasing acceptance and usage of digital devices, the use of GPS technologies (among others) is likely to expand rapidly.
“We have been able to show that people who saw a direct benefit to using the device were more likely to want to use it and valued using it,” she said.
“However, it is clear that people need technical support to use such devices and a lot of information can be gained from going out walking with the person,” she said. “GPS is not failsafe but can help locate a person quickly and subsequently saves lives.”
Dr Bartlett added that giving location devices to people with dementia would enable them to have greater freedoms and more independence, while providing reassurance to their families and carers.
The findings support those from a recent Norwegian study, which concluded that using GPS technology to keep track of patients with dementia allowed them to be more independent while also reducing anxiety among relatives and carers.
The new UK study, which was funded by the Alzheimer’s Society, also involved Hampshire Constabulary, which had already completed their own GPS dementia project called Operation Magnet.
After a year’s trial in Southampton, the scheme to provide GPS tracking devices to people with dementia was originally rolled out in local areas under Hampshire County Council’s control in 2016. In 2017, it was subsequently adopted by public protection and care services across the Southampton area.
“We recommend these technologies are discussed as early as possible after a diagnosis”
Detective chief inspector Dave Brown said: “As a result of the scheme, we have seen a 65% decrease in the number of people who were given the device being reported missing to police.
“This research shows that GPS technology can have a positive impact on people living with dementia,” he said.
He added: “The technology can help families and individuals make informed decisions to help mitigate the risk posed to people with dementia, and also allows for independence to be maintained.”
The Southampton researchers said they hoped their report would raise awareness of the benefits of someone with dementia having a GPS tracker and lead to an increased uptake in their usage.
Dr Doug Brown, chief policy and research officer at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “GPS tracking in dementia has previously been considered a contentious issue, but by listening to the views of people affected by the condition, as well as clinicians and emergency services, researchers on this study concluded that GPS devices can save lives.
Dr Doug Brown
“It is ultimately a personal decision, but we recommend these technologies are discussed as early as possible after a diagnosis, to ensure the person living with dementia is able to give informed consent and, if they wish, begin to use, and benefit from these potentially life-saving devices as early as possible,” he said.
He added: “We funded this research to help the 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, many of whom have told us how much it means to them to keep their own sense of independence.”