Technology can keep wandering Alzheimer’s patients safer

Blue MedicAlert bracelet
Blue MedicAlert bracelet for Alzheimer’s patients, from Safely Home program. Courtesy

Technological innovation is helping some families in the GTA keep track of where their loved ones with Alzheimer’s are, from a GPS wristband in York Region called Project Lifesaver, to a special colour-coded MedicAlert bracelet.

They are also using smartphones that incorporate geofencing, which is a software that administers and alerts the families of the individual when the tracked person leaves his or her arranged boundaries.

“There’s one that’s GPS, which allows you to go through a cellular network, so you can wander anywhere and you can be found. The other one uses a Bluetooth technology where you setup your own home as a geofence,” said Const. Victor Kwong from the Toronto Police Services.

“What it does is it will alert you, much like [when] you go to a store. If you steal something and walk out, once you go beyond a certain threshold it starts beeping. That’s the same thing. Instead of beeping, which will make someone anxious, this sends a message to your smartphone. So you, as a caregiver, you can always know that someone you are giving care for is within proximity.”

Safety solutions for wandering dementia patients: Observer reporter Nina Raynars at Toronto Police Services.

Another safety solution is provided by The Alzheimer’s Society in partnership with MedicAlert, a non-profit organization. The associations designed a program called Safely Home, which is specifically for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. Patients wear a blue Alzheimer’s identity bracelet.

“The program was designed for first responders to quickly access a comprehensive record of the wandering person,” said Lara Morales, MedicAlert operations manager in Toronto. “It’s also a tool for the community: if you see a wandering person with a bracelet…call the hotline number on the bracelet and we will quickly make sure the person is returned home safely.”

According to Morales, in 2013 alone, 2,673 people registered for the blue Alzheimer’s ID bracelet service. This year, the organization has witnessed an increased demand. Officials say 3,549 new members have registered so far, for a total of 5,058 bracelets issued Canada-wide.

The service costs $5 monthly, or people have the option of paying an annual fee of $60. Both prices include the bracelet.

This map indicates the areas in the GTA where people who wear the blue Alzheimer’s ID bracelets live.

From a technology standpoint, safety solutions that incorporate GPS tracking create efficiency, but when it comes to dealing with Alzheimer’s, some critics may feel these devices pose a threat of privacy violation. However, Kwong explains how combining technology and safety tools is a benefit to families and caregivers.

“You have to think what’s more valuable: the privacy of where you are, or the fact that if you get lost, someone can find you,” Kwong said. “This is not a person who has…all their faculties. When you think about it in that context I would much rather my spouse, my parent, is tracked by GPS. Forget about privacy, I want to know that this person is found if they ever wander.”

About this article

Posted: Oct 24 2014 2:58 pm
Edition: Toronto
Filed under: Special Reports Science & Health