Should We Track Alzheimer’s Patients Electronically?

A Guest Post by Mary Emma Allen alzheimers1.jpg Should we use electronic tags or chips to help track people with Alzheimer’s or dementia who wander away and have no idea, or very little, about how to return? This controversial issue continues to make headlines. The issue also draws mixed reactions from people who care for Alzheimer’s patients and those who don’t. Cries of “That’s inhumane!” and “Big Brother!” mix with “That will save my parent!” I know what it’s like to have a family member disappear. Under diligent care, Mother cleverly escaped from me and from the nursing home. My aunt repeatedly wandered off when we had to go into the next room or were busy in the kitchen. Their instincts seem attuned to knowing the minute they’re alone. They also are very astute about circumventing locks, hooks, and even key pads. Mother took a broom handle and lifted a hook off a latch we thought was beyond her reach. Then she escaped out into the darkness. (Fortunately my husband and I were watching that time.) The Issue Makes News The ABC Online (Australian Broadcasting Corp) published an article recently by Stephanie Kennedy, discussing the controversy over dementia tracking tags with information concerning both sides of the issue, as well as growing support in Great Britain for this concept. On one hand there are caregivers who have had family members wander away, some even resulting in fatalities. On the other, you have people who feel this is an invasion of personal privacy or civil liberty. They even stage rallies and pickets to protest this “unfeeling” regard for the Alzheimer’s patient’s privacy. Yet we continue to read about people who wander off, many of whom aren’t found until it’s too late. In the above ABC article, Marilyn Lovejoy said of her husband: “He just used to leave the house and we didn’t have a clue where he was, and quite often he’d be gone for hours,” she said. “It would have stopped a lot of anxiety, us knowing where he was.” Of course, there needs to be a balance between electronic devices used strictly for the unnecessary restriction of the patient and their use for the patient’s safety. The suggestion has been made that the matter of electronic tracking devices be discussed before the Alzheimer’s victim is afflicted so badly he/she can’t express their desires rationally. Family members also might want to discuss among themselves beforehand whether to use a tracking device with Mom or Dad. What has been your experience with family members or your patients wandering? What is your opinion of these tracking devices? Discuss this issue with other caregivers at the AGIS forums here. (c)2008 Mary Emma Allen (Mary Emma Allen cared for her mother and aunt during their journey through Alzheimer’s. She writes about this topic for print and online publications, including Alzheimer’s Notes at, and is author of When We Become the Parent to Our Parents. Mary also gives talks to groups about Alzheimer’s and caregiving. E-mail: me.allen[at] )