Older adults with cognitive conditions sometimes feel lost or disoriented and leave their room or home in search of something familiar. This is called wandering — a common but potentially dangerous symptom of memory conditions in seniors. Many methods exist to help prevent wandering, like carefully designed memory care facilities that reduce confusion and promote familiarity. But when it happens, a GPS tracking bracelet or device can help prevent emergencies and dangerous situations.
GPS tracking has helped people navigate their way around the planet for decades. As with the apps for driving directions you use on your smartphone, GPS technology uses information gathered from satellites to figure out your precise location on the ground.
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Today, GPS trackers can be so basic and small that people can wear them throughout the day without noticing. These trackers allow caregivers to know exactly where an elderly loved one is to help keep them safe.
You can buy tracking devices in the form of a GPS tracking bracelet, watch, or a device that fits in clothing or on a key chain.
Here are some helpful tracking devices for your elderly loved one:
How it works: Intended for seniors, the Freedom 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 option requires a subscription, which is about $45 per month depending on the chosen payment plan. The watch itself costs $180.
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. It’s also 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 $99, plus a monthly service plan for $13.
How it works: The GPS Smart Sole is a tracking device sealed in a water-resistant, trimmable shoe insert. 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, and 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 two- to three-day day battery life with normal use. It alerts caregivers by email or text notifications when the battery is low.
Cost: The insert is $299, plus a data plan which starts at $15 a month.
How it works: You may think these Garmin products are only for exercise, but they can also help caregivers looking out for seniors. Most of these watches and bands connect to a smartphone for location tracking plus heart rate monitoring and communication. The basic design of the vívosport 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 vívosport starts at $169, while the higher-end smartwatches range from $199 to more than $1,000.
How it works: Mindme Locate is a key-sized, buttonless device you attach to a belt or key chain to track the user’s location. Caregivers can look up the user’s location at any time on Mindme’s website, and they can call the company’s response team during an emergency. While the Mindme Locate is currently the company’s only device sold in the U.S. (Mindme is U.K.-based), the Mindme watch and Mindme Alarm may be available in the future.
Cost: Mindme Locate currently costs $140 plus a $20 monthly subscription fee.
How it works: AngelSense’s specialized tracking technology offers a wide range of benefits. The tracker fits easily in a sleeve, which can then be carried or attached to the user. 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: Regularly listed for $229, the AngelSense kit containing the tracking device and fasteners is currently free due to the coronavirus pandemic. There’s a service plan starting at $40 a month, plus an activation fee.
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 there is service around the world. 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. The Nano’s location is reported through a mobile app that allows you to view a map of locations and 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.
How it works: Project Lifesaver’s alarm system involves a non-GPS device and is probably the easiest-to-use item on this list. No apps or touchscreens involved: a wristband worn by the senior simply transmits a radio signal to a handheld receiver 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.
To get the alarm system, caregivers have to enroll seniors in Project Lifesaver locally. The organization has worked for more than 20 years to build a nationwide network of certified public safety agencies — including fire and rescue teams, first responders, and law enforcement — that send a trained emergency team to respond to a caregiver’s area. Most recovery times average about 30 minutes.
Cost: The equipment package — receiver, transmitter, wristbands, and batteries — must be purchased through your 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 ten people with dementia will wander. As the disease progresses, a person can become disoriented for longer periods of time.
Fortunately, you can prevent wandering by creating a plan and using services like tracking technology.
Memory care is another option for dealing with wandering in Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. 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.
Danny Szlauderbach is an editor and content writer at A Place for Mom. Since 2010, his work in strategic communications has spanned across several industries, including education, technology, and financial services. He’s a member of ACES: The Society for Editing and a graduate of the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Kansas.