Health

Using GPS Tracking Devices in Your Dementia Care


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Technology has evolved so much to enhance medical care and its devices. When it comes to dementia, GPS tracking devices are worth looking into. These devices can save patients’ lives and enhance medical services in the long run.

Granted, there are many considerations before using GPS tracking for people with dementia. Here’s everything you need to know about the tool’s integration into dementia care.

What Are GPS Tracking Devices?

GPS stands for Global Positioning System. Tracking devices embedded with this technology can track and monitor the location of a person or object. In modern technology, location sharing through the GPS system is normally accessible through smartphones and mobile devices. However, there is a range of items solely dedicated to picking up location information.



Some commercial uses of GPS trackers include watching inventory, shipments, and vehicle movement. They have become more mainstream for personal use, though. About 170 million Americans have at least one GPS or location-tracking device separate from a smartphone. These devices are great tools for tracking down family members and friends who go missing for a couple of hours or days.

The Challenges of Dementia Care

In dementia’s early stages, a person with this diagnosis will exhibit mild symptoms such as forgetfulness and mood swings. When detected, it is possible to treat it. Later stages pose more challenges, especially as older adults become more irritable and storm off. Other times, they may even wander away.

It is key to note that dementia is somewhat different from Alzheimer’s Disease. The former is more of a title for a set of symptoms of cognitive degradation. The latter is a common form of dementia focusing on progressive memory loss. There are still other kinds of dementia, like vascular dementia and mixed dementia.

GPS Tracking and Dementia

Dementia is no stranger to medical device development, as there are multiple assistive tools already. However, GPS tracking would provide new information that most devices wouldn’t really pick up. They may even enhance those features.



If a patient wanders off, a caregiver can simply check their location and rescue them as needed. Most GPS trackers even provide real-time updates through a cellular network so that you can get timely information.

Benefits of a GPS Tracking Device

Location is a considerable factor in the health and well-being of any dementia patient. Here’s a deep dive into how advantageous this modern technology is to medical care.

Safety and Security for Dementia Patients

GPS tracking devices have been popularized as a way to track the location of items and persons. If someone goes missing, you don’t know what’s happening to them or whether they’re in danger. Dementia patients tend to wander out of their safe zones and become disoriented, which can affect their security.

Location sharing may not guarantee that a patient will never get lost. However, knowing their position in real time makes it easy to check up on where they are. Caregivers can use this tool to ensure the safety of the people for whom they care.

Geofencing also allows you to set up virtual boundaries. If a person with dementia leaves a care facility or leaves their personal property, you can set up alerts to intercept them before they go too far.

Peace of Mind for Family Caregivers

During the early stages of dementia, some family members may prefer to be the caregivers of their loved ones. However, taking care of a person with this diagnosis can be a challenging task with plenty of stress. The added anxiety whenever the person you’re taking care of wanders off can add to the emotional fatigue.

Family caregivers can use GPS tracking devices to monitor their loved ones’ movements at all times. With supervision resolved, they can focus on other key tasks like household chores and entertainment activities.

Better Medical Care

Caregivers can also utilize GPS tracking devices to provide better medical care to dementia patients. For example, when it’s time to give them medication, it’s easy to find where they are and bring them what they need to drink.

GPS trackers can also provide plenty of information about a patient. If you encourage them to go to public spaces and communities for some socialization, you can see whether they go and how long they stay there. The devices can also track whether patients visit the doctor for their scheduled checkups. Any information to assist in their care is of corse in their best interests.

Improved Emergency Response

GPS tracking devices are essential for first responders knowing the exact location of a dementia patient at all times. This information is critical during the later stages of the condition, when the patient may become more frail or struggle with mobility. Patients may also be more susceptible to falls and accidents, so supervising them is more important than ever.

Wearable GPS trackers can be a good idea to provide urgent medical care when needed. Some medical alert systems feature this location-sharing feature. When an accident happens, emergency responders can come as quickly as possible.

Enhanced Quality of Life

Dementia is challenging for families and caregivers, and it’s even harder for patients themselves. They may feel unused to having medical care and having so much concern. With their medical condition, it can even seem more challenging to have independence as the condition worsens throughout long-term care.

gps tracking and dementia
Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

GPS tracking devices can improve one’s quality of life. With the location on, patients have a little more freedom to spend their time as they wish. It also allows caregivers some breathing room to decompress from their duties and the emotional fatigue that comes with the job.

Factors to Assess with a GPS Device

GPS devices are incredibly helpful in dementia care. However, it’s imperative to have an objective view when choosing a specific tracker. Here are some factors to assess.

Prices

GPS trackers have a variety of price points. There are free options, like mobile phone apps, though some programs won’t offer much information unless you pay for their limited features. It’s also not a dedicated device like other options on the market. GPS technology like smartwatches and other wearables are easier to equip but expect them to be more expensive.

Special features like geofencing can involve additional expenses. Caregivers should also take note of the activation that comes with GPS trackers. Most providers with cellular technology will also impose monthly subscription fees.

Battery Life

The battery life of GPS trackers is easy to forget, but they are quite an important facet of dementia care. Patients should ideally wear these devices 24/7 so their location is always available. When recharging these items, you need to practice manual supervision.

GPS tracker batteries are long-lasting, with some designed to operate for up to two weeks when fully charged. Others may advertise working for a few months, but check reviews to see if they truly last long under active use.

Overall Range

All GPS trackers provide location information, but range is a key factor to consider. The range of all devices will vary depending on their technology since it depends on proximity and signal. For example, Bluetooth technology will likely have a lower range, which is ideal for smaller areas and setups only.

GPS tracking devices with cellular technology are more reliable since satellites provide a constant connection. This version offers the most value if you want to monitor a patient at all times over a wide range.

Information Accuracy

A personal GPS tracker provides real-time monitoring of one’s location. However, it’s still worth checking out how speedy the updates are. Some technology may display information a few minutes late, which is crucial in medical emergencies.

It’s also key to check whether the information is accurate. Certain models may not provide the precise location due to improper design or incorrect mapping. Interference from buildings and trees can also block the radio signal.



Notification System

GPS tracking devices don’t always have alerts, though some systems include this feature. It is also possible to automate these setups. People with late-stage dementia should have an emergency button, often called a panic button.

If a person with dementia is experiencing complications or needs immediate medical attention, the SOS button is key for help. Family or caregivers monitoring them should also use this alert if a patient is incapacitated. This feature will notify emergency services to come.

Data Security

Like most technological advances, it’s always best to question data security. Location is sensitive information that people can exploit to take advantage of others. If the GPS tracker is compromised, dementia care patients will be unsafe.

Family and caregivers should check the GPS trackers for signs of tampering. Frequently look for provider updates to determine whether patient information is safe. If any hacks occur, it’s best to turn off the device until further notice.

The Ethics of GPS Technology

It’s one thing to track materials while in transit, and it’s another to find out the location of a person. GPS technology has always been in a gray area, with most people thinking it’s an invasion of privacy to know such information at all times.

Older people with dementia are unlikely to understand the concept of GPS tracking as well, but it’s key to explain to them the basics of how it works. Giving them an overview can help them see the benefits of how it works when attached.

Those in later stages may need help comprehending GPS tracker devices. Dementia results in poor judgment and confusion. If a person with cognitive impairment cannot grasp the complexities of such decisions, caregivers and family members can take on those roles and assess what’s best for them.

How Location Devices Differ From Other Tech

GPS devices often get confused with other forms of medical technology, like medical alert systems. However, the biggest difference between them and other health care technologies is that the trackers provide precise location information while others do not.

It is possible to equip medical alert systems with GPS systems. There are existing models that have both in a single device. This combination means caregivers can access emergency detection and location information simultaneously.

GPS Tracking Device Examples

GPS tracking devices are powerful, but only when they’re worn. A cell phone is handy at providing location, but is easy to forget when going from place to place. Wearable trackers like smartwatches are quite popular since they’re portable and easier to equip. Other accessories like necklaces or keychains also work.

Here are the best GPS tracker brands to check out:

Theora Connect Tracker Watch

Theora Connect’s kit comprises a wristwatch and a pre-activated cellphone. Features like the emergency button are voice-activated, making it ideal for those with limited mobility.

Dynotag GPS-Enabled Pendant

Dynotag offers a durable stainless steel pendant with location-tracking capabilities. It’s easy to wear and provides GPS services for a lifetime. Check Pricing on Amazon.

Garmin Vivofit Fitness Band

Garmin’s fitness bands track different metrics, like steps and sleep schedules. They also offer a built-in GPS, which benefits both patients and caregivers. Check Pricing on Amazon.

GPS SmartSole

If family and caregivers want to be discreet, opt for small devices like the GPS SmartSole. You can easily hide it in clothes or shoes to keep track of a patient at all times without them having to worry.

Cube Key and Item Finder

The Cube is another small device families and caregivers can put on a person with dementia. Its feature can capture photos remotely, so putting it in the chest pocket can give extra information on the person’s location.

Integrating GPS Tracking Devices

GPS tracking devices are highly beneficial for the health and safety of those in dementia care. Medical care providers should focus on developing clear procedures for the trackers’ deployment and maintenance. If family caregivers are in charge of a person with dementia, they should also know how to use them.

Provide training on how GPS tracking devices are effective and demonstrate how they are utilized. This technology can provide plenty of crucial information, but it’s only useful when you know how to access it and report its usage.

Assessing Who Needs a GPS Tracker

Many people benefit from a GPS tracker, even without a medical condition. In the context of dementia care, it’s ideal to equip them with this technology as soon as possible. This assistive technology is excellent when receiving medical care during the early stages. It prevents accidents and tracks whether they attend medical treatment appointments.

GPS tracking devices become an absolute necessity during the later stages. As dementia symptoms worsen, their health and well-being become even more fragile. Knowing their location is imperative to keep them safe and well, whether they are at home or in care homes.

The Future of GPS Systems in Dementia Care

As GPS tracking devices become even more accepted and used in dementia care, they will likely get more upgrades. For instance, most modern technology is paired with artificial intelligence. AI’s inclusion in GPS systems can improve speed and deliver the precise location of an individual without interference.

AI algorithms can also be helpful for predictions and pattern analysis. If a person with dementia regularly leaves a location at a certain time, this technology can detect it. Family and caregivers can use that information to accompany them and keep them safe.

gps tracking and dementia
Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Utilize GPS Tracking Devices

GPS tracking should be integrated more into dementia care. The technology is already as optimized as possible for patients’ safety. It can lessen pressure on medical providers and provide peace of mind to family members. If anything, the future is bright for further developments. Invest in it as early as now.


About the Author

Beth Rush

dementia and environment
Beth Rush

Beth Rush is the Managing Editor and Content Manager at Body+Mind.

Body+Mind features articles about diet, fitness, mental health, parenting and health care.