"What complicates search and rescue for individuals with Alzheimer's disease is that, unlike a lost child, many will not respond to calls to them, nor will they call out for help," says educator Andrew Carle. "They often also become quickly frightened and attempt to hide — making locating them more difficult." Carle, an assistant professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., specializes in aging and senior housing issues.
A problem inherent with many of the devices is that they can be removed: A patient with dementia might take off a bracelet or remove a device from his or her pocket, Carle says.
"Paranoia is a manifestation of the disease, so people with AD will often remove anything placed on them with which they are unfamiliar — for example, a 'clip on' or other distinct device. For the same reason, they are also adept at getting around locks, alarms or other devices intended to stop them — and, once having done so, are difficult to find."
Carle's personal favorite among the monitoring systems on the market is scheduled to be released for retail sale this summer: GPS Shoes. The shoes, which will be sold at http://www.foot.com, (800) 526-2739, will contain a tiny embedded tracking device. Whenever the wearer wanders off more than a pre-set distance, the caregiver will receive an alert by telephone and computer.
The Aetrex Ambulator GPS Shoe will retail for $200 to $300, with monthly tracking available for $22.95 to $39.95, says Patrick Bertagna, chairman of GTX Corp., which builds the tracking device that will be embedded in the shoes.
The device will work anywhere there is cell coverage. If Susan's mother had been wearing the shoes when she departed on her 500-mile journey, her family might have found her more quickly.
INFO BOX: When to get an Alzheimer's monitoring system
How do you know whether your dad or mom needs a monitoring system? In California, half a million people suffer from Alzheimer's or a related form of dementia. Sixty percent of those afflicted will wander or become lost at least once during the progression of the disease. Most of them will wander more than once.
In making a decision, there are some things to watch for in a parent:
Returning later than usual from a regular walk or drive.
Trying to fulfill former obligations, such as going to an old job site.
Being restless, pacing or making repetitive movements.
Inability to locate familiar places, such as the bedroom or bathroom.
Appearing lost in a new or changed environment.
Several organizations offer assistance
The Alzheimer's Assn., www.alz.org, (800) 272-3900, staffs a 24-hour information hotline. The website offers advice on how to reduce wandering and protect a loved one from getting lost, and how to prepare for an emergency.
The National Institute on Aging and Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center, www.nia.nih.gov, (800), 438-4380, has information on how to recognize the disease, on research into its cure and on coping. And the National Institute on Neurological Disorders, www.ninds.nih.gov/index.htm, (800) 352-9424, has information on clinical trials.
This column on caring for, and staying connected with, aging family members appears monthly. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org