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GPS technology  helps in the fight against dementia

An innovative project featuring potentially lifesaving GPS technology is helping people with dementia who are at risk of becoming lost and confused in the community.

GPS team

The pilot scheme involves giving GPS (Global Positional System) devices to people with dementia for family and other professionals to monitor their whereabouts and ensure they stay safe.

The device itself is a small, loose fitting pendant, which is worn discreetly around the neck, added on a belt or keys.

Each device emits a GPS signal, which is linked to a secure website that covers the whole of the UK and Europe. Family members, or in emergencies, the police, can log in at any time and use the signal to check where the vulnerable adult is, ensuring that if they do go missing they can be found quickly before they get into difficulties.

The £5000 project is being jointly run by Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, Hampshire Constabulary and Southampton City Council’s Social Services department.

William, an 82 year old gentleman who has dementia, is using one of the devices. His daughter Trish said it has a made a massive difference to her and her father’s life: “He is calmer and less anxious and on the occasions he has been anxious or unsure about where he was, he was able to use the device to call for help”, she said.

“The difference for me in terms of peace of mind is massive. I gave up my job because I was worried and wanted to be available if he goes missing. Now with the device fitted I just go in the morning to help him up and then I can go. I log on a few times a day to check up on him and if he has wandered off I can just go and pick him up without panicking or calling the police. For me it’s just a massive help and I am starting to look for part time work again as I am more confident with him going out or being on his own.”

Julie Redman, a Specialist Practitioner at Southern Health, is helping to coordinate the project along with Julia Lury, a Specialist Occupational Therapist Practitioner. Tackling dementia and the issues it causes are a huge priority for the Trust. Ten devices have already been issued to families in Southampton. They said: “We are committed to keeping people with dementia at home for as long as possible and promoting independent living. The devices provide the person with dementia a feeling of security and safety.” 

“Feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive with relatives expressing that they feel less stressed and more confident about the safety and wellbeing of the person they care for”.

DCI David Brown is leading the project for Hampshire Constabulary. He said: “In a six-month period on average we might receive around 60 missing persons reports where the person reported missing has dementia or Alzheimer’s. The majority of these are for elderly, vulnerable people and so the quicker we can find them the better.

“Last year three people with dementia in Hampshire who went missing in six months died despite our best efforts in trying to find them. This project and the technology being used can help us massively by enabling us to find these people as quickly as possible before they get into difficulty.”

Alex Grant, from the Southampton Directorate of People Hospital Discharge Team at Southampton General Hospital, together with Gina McGee from Southampton Directorate of People Community Team has been working with Southern Health and Hampshire Constabulary to identify candidates. Alex  believes the devices can make a huge difference: “On average we see one to two people a week who have been brought into A&E after becoming disorientated and getting lost,” he said.

“During the winter months with the colder weather people can rapidly deteriorate, especially as they are usually quite frail to begin with. Someone wearing the device will be able to be located quickly, hopefully before they get into any serious trouble or need to be brought into hospital.”

Councillor Dave Shields, Southampton City Council Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care said: “I welcome this new development and it is important that we embrace new technologies to promote greater independence and wellbeing for people with dementia in the future”.

The project will run until August and it is hoped that more funding can be secured to continue the trial, potentially widening the availability of the devices for families. 

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