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Dementia care and GPS tags

20 May 2013

Dementia care and GPS tags

By: Dr. Rekha Elaswarupu

Recent report in The Telegraph that says dementia patients may be provided with GPS tagging systems by Sussex police has received mixed reactions on the social media. The local police force has paid for 15 devices to be worn by dementia patients in an attempt to save money searching for those who regularly go missing. The new trial initiative is expected to cost the force £400 a month. If successful, the initiative will be rolled out across the county, which has a large elderly population. Chief Inspector Tanya Jones said: “The GPS will be very cost-effective to the police. It will reduce anxiety for the families and the time spent by Police on this issue.

While majority of people involved with the field of dementia care agree that there is a danger of violation of human rights and compromise in dignity. Carers and relatives of people with dementia on the other hand appear to feel that this might be a godsend especially when a person with dementia insists on going for a walk and then gets lost. There have been reports of instances where dementia sufferers have been exposed to bad weather and other health conditions as they went missing.

A similar report published last year stated that sensors and digital cameras have been fitted in some care homes in Scotland to monitor the movement of its residents and send an alarm to the carers if anything unusual is detected.

While this may be a system aimed at protecting the residents and keeping them safe, there is a concern that a ‘big brother’ approach might be against the human rights and dignity of the residents.

It is important to remember that whatever approach is followed, it is the person living with dementia whose interest must be the underlying principle of any decisions. Family members and the person with dementia (where possible) must be equal partners in planning and delivery of care. Many of our customers are very elderly and have dementia which makes then unable to express their opinions about the care received. They are more inclined to talk to their relatives if they are unhappy about an issue. It is important that the communication channels with family are kept open to avoid complaints or accusations of neglect and abuse at a later stage.

Another concern that has been raised is that such initiatives may be aimed at cost savings rather than safety of the person with dementia. Clear communication, consent and judging each case on its merit would be a more favoured approach rather than a blanket policy which would be against the personalisation and dignity. Hence the role of staff in ensuring that people with dementia and their relatives understand the implications and choices in this matter is highly crucial. Helping Hands has a robust system of training and supervision for staff which reinforces these messages very strongly.

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