GPS technology pilot for dementia patients

The Grande Prairie Herald Tribune

Author: Tom Bateman

Some Grande Prairie seniors are getting outfitted with cutting-edge technology in an effort to keep them out of TRiLOC™, Personal Locator Device, harm’s way. Grande Prairie is one of two areas of focus forAlberta Health Service’s ‘Locater Device Project,’ which employs the Global Positioning System (GPS) to track the movements of people affected by dementia.

The six-month pilot is a collaboration between AHS, the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, Alberta Innovates and Advanced Education and several stakeholders including the EMS, police forces and the Alzheimer’s Society. Researchers are currently equipping seniors in Calgary and Grande Prairie with GPS technology embedded into shoes, watches and a device similar to a cellphone. This study was triggered by a similar project in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Although GPS use is widespread, Ruptash said the technology only became an option for AHS recently.

“Even a couple years ago we tried to trial GPS technology in a former project and it wasn’t available.”

The devices transmit information such as location (as specific as GPS coordinates), speed and direction of travel via emails, text messages and to web-based platforms. Users can also set up ‘geofences’ online; once a person using the device leaves a pre-determined area the device will send out warning notifications. Geofencing, Ruptash said, is proving useful both to ensure people are staying in safe areas like homes and away from dangerous areas like roads and bodies of water.

Irina Golyk agrees. Her 82-year-old mother, who suffers from dementia and doesn’t speak English, is part of the project. Golyk found out about the program from her Home Care manager.

“It would be better for her to live in home-care but she doesn’t understand anything and it’s kind of tradition for us to live with our parents.”

Golyk said her mother doesn’t really understand the technology, but she knows what buttons to press and when. “She understands some things, but we have only two choices; have this device or keep everything locked from the outside,” she said.

The cost once the project is over is negotiable, considering the peace of mind it provides, she continued.

Ruptash said that the monitoring systems being studied will cost consumers about $200-$400 to purchase, and then would total about $45 monthly to maintain. AHS doesn’t have plans to subsidize the products.

“The source of the funding that is covering this project is to look at innovative technologies to support community-based seniors,” Ruptash said.

The dementia equipment is sold by an Albertan company, Safe Tracks GPS Canada Inc. Based in Red Deer, the firm has been in the electronic monitoring industry for five years. They also provide ‘judicial monitoring equipment,’ in the form of ankle and wrist bracelets.

Security of the information being transmitted has also been researched. “Everything is absolutely encrypted and stored in encrypted form under password connection and is secure within an Alberta-based web platform,” said Ruptash.

Ruptash said the project is still looking for three participants from the Swan City.

“When we think about enrollment criteria for this project, we’re looking to support clients with cognitive impairment who are active in the community and still want to maintain their safety and independence in their own home.”