Investigating the effectiveness and acceptability of GPS technology for people with dementia

Read about a research project we funded into Using Global Positioning System (GPS) Technologies for Safer Walking: A participative inquiry project.

Lead Investigator: Dr Ruth Bartlett

Institution: University of Southampton

Grant type: Project grant 

Duration: 28 months

Amount: £188,004

Why did we fund this project?

Comments from members of our Research Network:

'I think this research will be very helpful for people with dementia, and give peace of mind to their carers - I would be very grateful to use a GPS device myself if I needed it in the future (I have dementia)'

'Positives for this proposal include the assembly of a team from a multitude of professions, ensuring that all aspects are considered. A well planned implementation and dissemination effort is outlined'

'I'm impressed with the angle of treating safe walking as a right for people with dementia and that it is a participative enquiry putting people with dementia and their carers at the heart and the hub of the exploration'

What do we already know?

People with dementia like to be able to walk outside and research shows that it is a good thing for people to do. However, leaving the house to walk outside is not without its risks for someone with dementia, as the condition can affect a person's way-finding abilities and capacity to remember.

Of the people with dementia who live in their own homes, 40% will get lost at some point and about 5% (25,000) will get lost repeatedly, doubling their risk of admission to expensive long term care. Increasingly the police are called out to search for people with dementia who go missing, causing distress for the families concerned and a financial burden for the police force involved.

Global Positioning System (GPS) technologies can provide peace of mind to people with dementia and families, but the use of such technologies is controversial and divides opinion, particularly amongst health and social care professionals.

Research suggests that some regard it as an infringement of a person's civil liberties; whereas others consider it an effective means of maintaining a person's safety. Another issue is cost. For example, a pair of GPS walking shoes will cost in the region of £120. So, not everyone may be able to afford the technology, even if they want to use it, which is why it's important to find out more about whether such devices are helpful or not, and to explore other possible ways of promoting safer walking.

What does this project involve?

The aim of this project is to examine the effectiveness and acceptability of using technologies to promote safer walking for people with dementia, mainly from the standpoint of people with dementia and their families, and the police.

The proposed project differs from other research on this topic in three key ways. First, the researchers will involve people with dementia and their families every step of the way. They have already consulted two groups of people with dementia and family carers and responded to their feedback in designing this project, and will continue to seek the views of people affected by dementia throughout the project. Second, rather than taking a medical approach and using the language of 'wandering', they will explore the topic from a rights perspective. Third, their plan is to produce practical guidance for people to use when issuing and/or using technologies for safer walking. No such guidance presently exists. The guidance would cover thorny issues such as capacity to consent and the cost of technologies. 

How will this benefit people with dementia?

The results of the research will be used to inform and broaden scientific and public debate, policy action, and practice, relevant to the use of technologies for safer walking and people with dementia.

As such, the project can make a valuable and unique contribution and will complement existing national and international research in this area. It will also help to improve community support and assist families to provide care for longer.

Some of the particular benefits envisaged by the researchers include empowering people with dementia and their families to engage in positive risk-taking and seek independence; de-stigmatising the use of technologies for safer walking; and increasing the confidence of people to make decisions about using technology to promote safer walking

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