A majority of Danish municipalities have begun fitting dementia patients with GPS tracking systems since the introduction if a new law allowing elderly care home residents to be fitted with alarm and tracking devices was introduced in 2010.
In a survey conducted by national broadcaster DR, 86 out of 89 responding municipalities said that they use the technology, which consists of either alarms which set off as the individual leaves the area of the care home, or a GPS device allowing missing patients to be quickly recovered.
“It is extremely positive that the municipalities are embracing this task,” Interior and Social Minister Karen Ellemann told DR.
“Technological advances have really made it possible to prevent people with dementia from running into problems.”
Elderly persons' charity Ældre Sagen (Elderly Action) also told DR that it saw the use of alarm and tracking technology as a boon for dementia patients.
“It is wonderful, that they are doing it [using the technology]. Particularly that they have got hold of GPS,” Margrethe Kähler, regional consultant with the charity, said.
“Try to imagine how frightening it must be to be somewhere, with no idea where you are, freezing cold, and unable to find your way home. In many cases [dementia patients] are at risk of dying, so this [finding them] is a must.”
Though some concerns have been raised regarding privacy concerns and the use of GPS for dementia patients, Kähler said that she believes it is precisely this kind of technology that allows elderly residential home patients to retain their freedom, since it enables doors to be left unlocked at all times.
“It is not a case of Big Brother. It is Big Mother. We are protecting their health. We are not constantly watching them, but if they don't come back, we can see where they are right now,” she said.
Kähler added that the vast majority of dementia patients who leave their residential homes do not do so because they are unhappy with their living conditions, but because of the confused state caused by their condition.
“They think they are going home to milk the cows. Or to negotiate on the stock exchange. If they are strong enough physically, they will get up and leave their room. So making sure they [don't get lost] is part of our day-to-day work,” she said.