Tracking people when they're gone—or noticing before they've left? I spent the weekend researching various technology offerings that might prevent an able-bodied 87-year-old person with dementia from wandering beyond a specified area in independent or assisted living campuses. I've looked into it and must say I'm disappointed. The hype exceeds at least my research reality. That GPS shoe hyped in the press? I just called Foot.com—it will be out now in the spring of 2011. "Geo-fencing" devices, such as SentryGPS or Alzguard, require placing a device in a pocket. Unfortunately, a wandering senior can easily discard the device. LoJack, EmFinders, The Alzheimer's ComfortZone, etc., all help find a person who is already lost but require involvement of local police departments. And based on Internet searching of geo-fencing ideas, the Web sites and references indicate to me that they aren't that widely deployed.
Requiring total facility commitment or just enough for a person or two? In the around-forever category, there are a number of facility-oriented systems (search for WanderGuard and you'll find them) that I view as heavyweight—i.e., requiring electricians and resetting keypads, sending audible or beaming alarms, and in general advertising that this is a "locked down" facility, something that independent living and assisted living communities do not wish to admit (unless they have a dementia unit on site that can be presented as a viable upgrade option). Even the sensor-based systems installed on an apartment alert are based on exit from a resident's unit, not on a zone-based approach that works for a campus or yard area and that can be associated with one individual.
So offer up a few good options: a watch or attractive bracelet that works. What I envision is a working watch or other unobtrusive, easily worn form factor that cannot be simply pulled off. I want one that alerts when it is removed but is easily reset when a staff or family member accompanies a person out the door. After looking at the various geo-fencing alternatives, I want the ability to design and adjust the zone easily, even online. And I want the ability to alert in multiple mediums, notifying several pre-identified people at once—caregivers, staff, family members. In contacting several senior housing executives, this lighter-weight strategy does not seem to be widely deployed.
But, acknowledging that searching online for information may not be the best approach, let's ask. If you, a person, or an organization you know well are using such a technology, please comment on this post or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Laurie Orlov
Aging in Place Technology Watch Blog
[First posted August 23, 2010, at Laurie's Aging in Place Technology Watch Web site.]