There are nearly six million victims of Alzheimer’s disease in the United States, with roughly 15 million caregivers. In recognition of World Alzheimer’s Day on September 21, a company called GTX Corp. announced the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) certification of its new shoe that contains global positioning system (GPS) technology in its sole. The company delivered the first 3,000 units of the product — aptly named GPS Shoes — to its partner, Aetrex Worldwide, for distribution.
Another company developing technology for elder care is Buzby Networks, founded in 2008 by a group of students and a professor from Pennsylvania State University. The company’s product, the BuzNet Real-Time Locating Systems, works similarly to GPS and is embedded in battery-powered bracelets. The bracelets send signals back to a base device, which then shows the wearers’ positions on a floor plan.
There are other applications for this technology, of course, but Buzby is currently focusing on the senior market. “That market is valued at $2.6 billion, and with one-fifth of the population moving into the senior citizen age group by 2030, demand is growing,” said Buzby’s president and CEO Erik Davison. “Our technology can help these facilities be a lot more efficient in tackling the inevitable challenges health care is facing.” The bracelets won’t be available commercially until late 2012.
In a recent blog post, Carolyn Rosenblatt, who covers topics related to aging for Forbes, explains why devices like these are a good idea. She writes,
Wandering is part of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease for some, and it can be difficult to manage, even in a care facility. In assisted living, for example, as it differs from a skilled nursing facility, we can’t physically restrain residents, even for their own safety. We allow them to wander within the confines of their unit in the facility, theoretically with staff keeping a watchful eye on where they wander. Staff will gently guide them back to a safe place, should they go too far.
Rosenblatt also expresses her concern about these types of devices, that some might consider devices such as these a replacement to good old-fashioned caregiving and monitoring. Dignity and privacy are also important concerns when it comes to high-tech monitoring of any individual.
“Sometimes in our eagerness for safety, that whole aspect of a person’s autonomy — and dignity — is being trampled,” said nursing professor Margaret Bull, who specializes in elder-care issues at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI.
An alternative to the more expensive, high-tech gadgets for elder monitoring is the Medical Alert Alarm from firstSTREET, designed especially for seniors. It is a water-resistant, call-button pendant that is worn around the neck. It establishes two-way voice communication between the wearer and an Emergency Response Center. With the push of a button, the response center can dispatch local emergency medical services or a nearby friend or relative. The base unit, stored within the home, can monitor up to three pendants at a range of 600 feet. There is no cost for the pendants or the base unit, and the service costs $29.95 per month.
Source: “GTX Corp announces October availability of its GPS Tracking Shoe,” GPS Shoe blog, 09/21/11
Source: “PSU professor, graduates look to break into senior living industry,” CentreDaily.com, 09/29/11
Source: “GPS Enabled Shoes For People With Alzheimer’s,” Forbes, 09/27/11
Source: “GPS Shoes Now Available for Alzheimer’s Patients,” The Next Web, 09/21/11
Source: “High-tech ways to care for the elderly,” The Charlotte Observer, 09/27/11
Image by aleksiev (Virginia Aleksiev), used under its Creative Commons license.