GPS devices

Using technology to help a person remain independent

Living with dementia magazine's 'Ask an expert' column discusses the use of tracking devices to keep someone safe.

'I worry when I don't know where my husband has walked off to. His dementia is advanced and I have power of attorney. What tracking devices could help?'

Devices that use GPS to locate a person may be useful. They could help your husband to continue walking about the neighbourhood while still being as safe as possible.

There are a number of practicalities to think about, and it's important to make sure that all decisions are made with his best interests in mind.

Safer walking

Most GPS devices are worn either on the wrist, like a watch, or around the neck on a lanyard, and they send various kinds of alerts. As long as your husband is in an area with a mobile signal, alerts could be sent to you and other specified people, or to a monitoring centre.

Devices usually have a panic or emergency button that your husband could press if he needs help. Often, they can also be set up so that you or another specified person can find out where he is any time you want to check.

Some devices would send an alert if they detect that your husband has had a fall. Geo-fencing is also offered by many - this means an alert would be sent if your husband goes outside a 'safe zone' that you have defined.

You may be able to use some or all of these functions to set up a system of alerts that work for your husband and you.

Things to consider

Even with power of attorney, you still need to ensure that any decision about using a GPS device is in your husband's best interests. These devices are meant to help someone remain independent for as long as possible, and not to simply 'tag' them for other people's convenience.

How could a device or function help your husband to walk about more safely? For example, would he be able to make a decision about using an emergency button?

Would he be happy and comfortable with wearing a particular device? Something worn on the wrist might work better if he's used to wearing a watch. If not, then other options might be preferable.

How would you keep a device's battery charged? Most cannot be charged while being worn, so charging needs to be planned. The battery may drain more quickly if someone goes out more, or if the mobile signal isn't strong.

Mobile signals can vary a lot between networks. Using a roaming sim card means the device can connect to whichever network has the strongest signal instead of relying on one.

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