Electronic Tags for Dementia Patients

The UK Alzheimer’s Society recently announced, “Electronic tagging has the potential to offer benefits to people with dementia and their carers.” Citing practical and ethical issues yet to be fully addressed, the Society suggested further research and urged striking a balance between the benefits of tracking a patient prone to wandering and the potential civil liberties infringement stemming from plotting their every move.

In a press release, Neil Hunt, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, said, “We know new technology is available and could offer benefits to people with dementia and their carers. There is a careful balance to strike between empowering people and restricting their movement and this technology can certainly never be used as an alternative for high quality dementia care.”

Electronic tracking devices use global positioning satellite (GPS) information to locate any patient wearing the tool. With the ability to tap into these locations services, caregivers and loved ones would be able to find and retrieve lost patients rapidly.

In addition to seeking additional research on electronic tags, the UK Alzheimer’s Society encourages developing guidelines regarding the uses of electronic devices including:

  • Getting consent for tracking device use from patients in the early stages of the disease prior to implementation
  • Using the device to supplement, not replace, comprehensive care and support
  • Advocating widespread evaluation and identification of the possible causes of patient agitation

Editor of the Bulletin of Medical Ethics Dr. Richard Nicholson told BBC Radio 5 Live, “The problem with this is that you could see second-class care – using it as a way of making life easier for carers rather than as a way of making life safer or more pleasant for the person with Alzheimer’s.” He also cautioned that the plan was, “not something that ought to go ahead without parliamentary debate and possibly even legislation.”

While this technology aims to soothe one of the many concerns families have about loved ones with dementia or Alzheimer’s, the concern that technology might substitute for adequate care will continue to burden the progress of such programs.

Learn more and find numerous articles and resources in our new Alzheimer’s Disease & Dementia section of AGIS.com. You can also share your opinion about the benefits and drawbacks of an electronic tagging program in our AGIS Forums section.