Older adults who have dementia sometimes feel lost or disoriented, feelings that may cause them to leave their room or home in search of something familiar. This is called wandering, a common but potentially dangerous symptom of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia in seniors. Many methods exist to help prevent wandering, but when it happens, a GPS tracker for seniors can help you find your loved one and prevent emergencies and dangerous situations.
GPS tracking has helped people navigate the planet for decades. As with apps for driving directions you use on your smartphone, GPS technology in senior-tracking devices coordinates with satellites to figure out your loved one’s precise location on the ground.
Today, GPS trackers come in many forms and can be so small that people wear them throughout the day without noticing. These trackers allow caregivers to know exactly where an elderly loved one is and can help keep them safe.
You can buy tracking devices in the form of watches, wristbands, or other small accessories that attach to clothing or a key chain. While tracking typically involves GPS, some items rely on internet, cellular, or radio technology.
Here are some helpful tracking devices for your elderly loved one:
How it works: Packed with senior-friendly features, the Apple Watch is a stand-up product for seniors. While there may be somewhat of a learning curve for seniors who are unfamiliar with smartwatches, this device shares many similarities with common medical alert systems — accessible interface, location tracking, and automatic fall detection — making it unique to any other smartwatch on the market. The Apple Watch can also be connected to a wireless phone plan as an independent device, which is ideal for aging loved ones who don’t use an iPhone or in the instances they leave home without it.
Cost: The Apple Watch SE starts at $279, while the higher-end models range from $399 to more than $1,499.
How it works: You may think these Garmin products are only for exercise, but they can also help caregivers look after seniors. Most of these watches and bands connect to a smartphone for location tracking and can include heart rate monitoring and communication capabilities. The basic design of Garmin’s vívosmart® 4 band may better suit your elderly loved one — and it’s less expensive. If you’re looking for something more advanced, Garmin has a variety of smartwatches with most of the capabilities of a smartphone.
Cost: The vívosmart® 4 starts at $129, while the more advanced smartwatches range from $199 to more than $1,500.
How it works: Intended for seniors, the Freedom 2.0 Guardian alert watch is lightweight and has a simple design with large icons. Features include GPS location tracking, emergency SOS, text-to-speech messaging, and reminders and alerts for medications and appointments.
Cost: This device requires a monthly subscription costing $49.95. Medical Guardian offers other mobile tracking devices at different price points that have a lower monthly subscription cost.
How it works: AngelSense’s specialized tracking technology offers a wide range of benefits. Caregivers access the tracking system through a smartphone app. Features include real-time mapping, an “unknown place” alert, all-day monitoring, first-responder emergency alerts, and one- or two-way voice tools that enable caregivers to hear the user’s surroundings or speak with their loved one. In addition to the handheld device, AngelSense also has wearable trackers like a sleeve, belt, and shirt.
Cost: The AngelSense kit containing the tracking device and fasteners is listed for $229. There’s a service plan starting around $40 a month, plus an activation fee.
How it works: The 4G Smart Sole is a rechargeable tracking device sealed in a water-resistant shoe insert that can be trimmed to shoe size. Families can track location history by setting up an account on GTX’s website. You can also receive text or email alerts from the device, as well as access a smart locator app and map wherever T-Mobile coverage is available — although you don’t need to be a T-Mobile customer to use the device. The SmartSole has a battery life of 2 to 3 days with normal use, and it alerts caregivers by email or text notifications when the battery is low.
Cost: The insert is $299, and the related data plan starts at $15 a month.
How it works: iTraq bills itself as the “world’s first global location device that can be found anywhere.” It uses cell towers to determine location, enabling it to be used anywhere around the world where there’s cell service. The iTraq Nano device itself is about half the size of most smartphones and easily slides into a pocket or connects to a key chain. A mobile app reports the Nano’s location and provides timestamps. iTraq also features a “Guard Mode,” in which users specify a radius on a map and receive alerts if the iTraq goes beyond the pre-set radius.
Cost: iTraq’s Nano is $129, and an unlimited reporting plan costs $79 annually.
How it works: The PocketFinder+ uses GPS, Wi-Fi, and cellular information to locate users. The device, just like the keyless entry remote control for a car, is small and fits easily on a key chain or in your pocket — plus it’s waterproof. Users can view not only a GPS location, but also an address, an altitude, your distance from the address, and the speed the device is moving. The PocketFinder+ app provides updates through email and text notifications on your computer or smartphone. PocketFinder+ also provides up to 60 days of tracking history and alerts you when the device leaves a specific “geo-fence zone” that you create.
Cost: The device alone is $149, and a monthly service plan is $13.
How it works: The GPS Help Button is a lightweight, ultra-compact device that can be attached to a lanyard or placed in a convenient carrying case to help you track your loved one’s location. Using Bay Alarm Medical’s app, caregivers can look up the user’s location at any time and keep tabs on the device’s battery level. With the 3-second click of a button, Bay Alarm Medical’s emergency response team will contact the user’s friends, family, or neighbors — and even notify local emergency services, if necessary.
Cost: The GPS Help Button currently costs $100, plus a $30 monthly subscription fee.
How it works: Project Lifesaver’s alarm system involves a non-GPS device and is among the easiest-to-use items on this list. No apps or touchscreens are involved: A wristband worn by the senior simply transmits a radio signal to a handheld receiver that stays with the caregiver. When the senior leaves the “safety zone” — about 100 feet indoors and up to 300 feet outdoors — an alarm sounds on the receiver to alert the caregiver.
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To get the alarm system, caregivers have to enroll seniors in Project Lifesaver locally. The organization works with certified public safety agencies — including fire and rescue teams, first responders, and law enforcement — which enables them to send a trained emergency team to respond to a caregiver’s area. Most recovery times average about 30 minutes.
Cost:Caregivers must purchase the equipment package — receiver, transmitter, wristbands, and batteries — through their local Project Lifesaver agency. Prices may vary, but some agencies list the annual cost at $300 then $10 a month for additional wristbands and batteries after the first year.
The Alzheimer’s Association encourages caregivers to start with a plan to help keep seniors safe. If your aging loved one begins to exhibit wandering behaviors, you should:
Anyone suffering from memory problems is at risk for wandering, even those in the early stages of dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Six in 10 people with dementia will wander, and as the disease progresses, a person can become disoriented for longer periods of time.
Fortunately, you can avoid the dangers of wandering by creating a safety plan and using services like tracking technology. If you know your loved one is at risk, think of scenarios that could create confusion, and figure out ways to stay aware of their whereabouts — a device from the list above may be a solution.
Memory care is another option for dealing with wandering among people with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. Memory care units generally have 24-hour supervised care within a standalone wing or on another floor of an assisted living facility. The physical layouts of dementia care units are designed to be easy to navigate, which minimizes the likelihood of wandering.
Alzheimer’s Association. “Wandering.”
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