A GPS-Enabled Shoe to Track Wandering Alzheimer’s Patients

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Courtesy GTX Corp.

Now this sounds like a good idea: use GPS-enabled shoes to track the whereabouts of elderly people with Alzheimer’s who may be prone to wandering.

Some 60% of patients with Alzheimer’s will get confused and wander off, sometimes without warning, and become lost. They’re not always easy to find — because paranoia is a common symptom of the disease, wandering patients may purposefully hide. Up to half of those who are lost and not found within 24 hours may die from dehydration, exposure or injury, AFP reports.

The new GPS-enabled walking shoe is a collaboration between Los Angeles-based GTX Corporation, which specializes in mini-GPS technology, and the footwear company Aetrex, with guidance from Andrew Carle, director of the senior housing program at George Mason University. They came up with walking shoes that look just like the typical shoe you’d see on many seniors’ feet, with the GPS device hidden in a heel.

“It’s especially important for people in the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s who are at the highest risk,” Carle told AFP. “They might be living in their home but they’re confused. They go for a walk and they can get lost for days.”

If you’ve ever used a GPS-enabled smartphone or other device, you’re well-acquainted with the the new shoe’s technology. Reported the New York Times earlier this month:

A family member sets a perimeter, a “geo-fence,” so that the wearer can freely move around the house, around the yard, perhaps around a familiar immediate neighborhood. “But if he breaks the fence, Google maps pops up on my computer or my phone to show me where he is,” explained Mr. Carle, now a consultant to GTX.

Even if your parent is in Tennessee and you’re not, “I can call the Memphis police and say, ‘My dad has Alzheimer’s and he’s wandering and he’s at the corner of Fifth and Elm. Could you go get him?'” Mr. Carle thinks that possibility could be enormously reassuring “for family caregivers who are afraid to go to the bathroom because when they get back, their loved one may be out the door.”

The advantage of putting GPS in shoes over, say, using a tracking bracelet or pendant is that patients with Alzheimer’s are apt to take these items off, especially if they’re unfamiliar, and discard them. Or they might lose them. People are less likely to take off their shoes.

The GPS shoes, which should be available online soon, will cost $299 per pair, plus a monthly fee of $34.99 for the monitoring service, NPR reports.

Sora Song is the editor of TIME Healthland. Find her on Twitter at @sora_song. You can also continue the discussion on TIME Healthland’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIMEHealthland.

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