In the world of dementia care here in the UK, one of the biggest news stories of late was the announcement by the Sussex Police Department of plans to use GPS tracking devices for people with dementia who regularly go missing. The idea behind this is to reduce the costs on the police force for having to search for these individuals, as well as to provide peace of mind for families and caregivers. This announcement has been met with all sorts of criticism, with some individuals and advocacy groups for older adults calling it “inhumane” and comparing it to the electronic tagging of criminals. However, when I first heard about it, without hearing any of the public reactions at the time, my immediate thought was that it seemed like a good idea. From what I understand, it is not something that anyone diagnosed with dementia would automatically have to wear, but is specifically for people who have previously gone missing. There was an awful case in my hometown a few years back where a man with dementia went missing in the dead of winter, and he died of hypothermia. He’d actually been picked up at some point and given a lift by a college student, and to the student he seemed to know where he was going and what he was doing, so the student was not concerned. It was only later when he saw the man on the news that he reported having seen him, but unfortunately they could not find him in time. In such a situation, this man’s life could have been saved if such a device had been in use.
One of the main concerns expressed by those criticizing this scheme is that such schemes will be used in place of providing better quality of care and addressing the underlying issues or environmental problems. While I certainly agree that other factors should be considered and addressed to prevent a person from getting lost to begin with, the unfortunate reality is that addressing the “causes” or the issues that can lead to a person with dementia “wandering” can be challenging, and may take quite some time to work out. In the meantime, I think ensuring their safety in case something does happen seems like it’s a worthwhile cause. It’s a situation where risk prevention seems to be the lesser of the two evils, but some people disagree with the implications of risk prevention on the individual’s freedom.
My biggest concern with this scheme, and one which I have been unable to find the answer to in all the news stories, is as to whether individuals will be given a choice in whether they wear these devices. It should be the individual’s choice, and not something forced upon them for the peace of mind of their carers and the police. But if their choice is taken into consideration, I don’t see a problem with it.
Interestingly when we discussed this one of my classmates said she didn’t think I would’ve had this opinion when we began the course in September; she thought I would have agreed with those who disagree with the scheme. I’m not sure if she’s right, but I think she probably is onto something about how the course has changed my perspective about some things.