Suffolk: Dementia sufferers given GPS tracking devices in pilot scheme

Dementia sufferers could be given a GPS system to track them

Dementia sufferers could be given a GPS system to track them - Credit: Thinkstock

A pilot scheme to track dementia patients by providing them with a GPS system has been given a cautious welcome by health professionals.

Suffolk County Council is currently trialing an initiative with a group of around 20 dementia patients which sees them wear a device fitted with a GPS system so that if they get lost they can be easily traced.

A number of councils across the country also provide this technology, which has received a mixed reaction.

Annie Topping, chief executive of Healthwatch Suffolk, an independent watchdog for health and social care, said: “With two thirds of dementia patients living in their own homes, any development that gives more support and enhances the independence of those with dementia must be good news for people in Suffolk.

“It will be important though to make sure that this is part of a package to support people with dementia and their carers. It should not just be a sticking plaster and there should be clear principals established about how to use the technology with the input of carers because they know the best way to be supported.

“I have spoken to carers about this idea and they would welcome it. It would be important going forward that carers are involved in the evaluation of this.”

Louise Burrows, Age UK’s Dementia services manager, said: “No new technology should be a substitute for care, however Assistive Technology can effectively supplement a package of support. GPS could enable people with dementia to maintain some independence in their lives. It would reassure family carers that they can be found if lost without resorting to a 999 call.

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“I’m aware of two incidents recently involving two older people with dementia who became lost after leaving home unaccompanied. One was returned in a very distressed state sometime later by a neighbour, the other necessitated police intervention. Both of these cases could have been resolved less stressfully if the new technology was available.

“GPS should not be a form of restraint but should afford more freedom for older people to live well with dementia, and should only be introduced with the understanding and consent of those involved and in their best interests.”

The £7,500 pilot started last April and was due to run for a year but has been extended.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk County Council said the idea behind the technology is to help people keep their independence and remain living at home.

She added: “The equipment is fitted with GPS technology and is worn by the individual, allowing them to raise the alarm themselves if they find they become lost or disorientated. The equipment also means that a carer or family member can check online to pin point the individual’s location, or ring a call centre that will identify their location.”

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