Do you know someone who has dementia? Have they ever gone walkabout? Did you have to search for them? I’ve been there and we were lucky, we found her before she got run over by a car or had a fall.
Recently I heard a lot about a different form of GPS, I’m going to call it the Ghost Positioning System. I wonder if I’m the first to create the acronym.
Back in February, psychic medium, Kelvin Cruickshank, who most people probably know from the TV series Sensing Murder, was able to guide a distraught family to the remains of dementia sufferer Raymond Sterling a month after he went missing, by identifying where to look on Google Maps after all else had failed.
This was a great comfort to his family and also very exciting for him to be able to demonstrate tangible results from a talent many people struggle to believe in.
However, wouldn’t it be better to find people alive using the other form of GPS, the Global Positioning System by having people wear or have a GPS tracker with mobile connectivity on their person?
There are low cost systems available, like the Wandatrak system offered by the Alzheimers NZ which uses radio frequency rather than GPS. I’ve written about this before. As you’ll see if you follow the link above, locating someone with one of these devices involves search and rescue people carrying a YAGI directional antenna and pointing it in the direction they hope to find the missing person. As soon as they get outside of range these devices are not of much use, at least with today’s system design.
I wonder if enough people got behind a bluetooth beacon type system, we could potentially come up with a new solution?
Searching for Pat Wearn in the stormwater system
Pat Wearn, a Torbay woman of 74 went missing over a year ago and her body still hasn’t been found. My daughter Gemma was one of the people that spent weeks and months searching for her. She was fit and known to go for daily walks, sometimes as long as 12km. The range of one of these RF systems is not much more than 1 km depending on the surroundings.
There are a limited number of GPS trackers in New Zealand with GPS and connection to the cellular network. I don’t know of anyone who has used these to track a missing dementia sufferer. If you have, I would love to hear from you as to how it worked, or if you had to use it in a real case of missing person. Please comment or reach out to me if you have.
There are a few key challenges with tracking systems.
- Range for a Radio Frequency tracker is a key problem. The batteries last a long time, but if the person has gone more than 1 km, it may not find them. I’ve heard of people with dementia hopping in a taxi and traveling 80 km to somewhere they remember they had previously lived.
- Range for GPS with a SIM card is very good depending on the device and the features vary with the cost. Features might include being able to see their last known location if they are inside or somewhere where it can’t get a satellite signal. Some have drop sensors in case someone has a fall. Some have SOS buttons, but I fear that is of little use to a person with dementia. Some even allow you to communicate through a speaker and listen to the person, but that is more likely to helpful for someone who has a different disability, like being blind, because someone who is already confused, probably will have no idea where the sound is coming from or why.
- The battery on a mobile network based GPS device also doesn’t last very long. More sophisticated ones might go on standby mode when they are not used, but average life is probably around 48 hours if it is running constantly.
- Another problem is getting these devices charged regularly whether it is daily, over night when they are sleeping, or for the RF devices that might have a battery charge that lasts for months, having someone remember to check it.
“That’s not mine!” A relative used to say when we tried to put her RF necklace on her. I’m sure she also would not have worn a tracking watch and when she went walkabout, she didn’t take a bag or anything else.
As baby boomers continue to age and live longer more and more dementia sufferers are going to go missing. There are around 50,000 people with dementia in New Zealand today and the number is expected to triple by 2050.
So what sort of GPS would you like to see more of, Ghost Positioning Systems or Satellite based systems?
Do you have any experience as a user of a personal tracking system? I’d love you to leave a comment or tell your story.