A GPS system that can track the location of patients suffering from dementia may become a reality in Norway if the health minister gets his way. Such a system, it’s believed, will give these patients more freedom to get out more often, and the state agency charged with ensuring Norwegians’ right to privacy now supports the project.
The director of Norway’s Data Protection Authority (Datatilsynet) has been among those studying the project since it was first proposed, and says it has won the agency’s backing. “This can be wise if the patient gets a better quality of life,” Bjørn Erik Thon told newspaper Aftenposten on Thursday. While some politicians question the human dignity of equipping dement persons with a GPS transmitter, others claim it can relieve worries about patients’ ability to find their way home, and provide reassurance for their families. Thon says it also can allow patients to remain in their own homes longer, postponing the need to put them in care facilities.
“Patients who have used a GPS (tracking system) experience more freedom and increased quality of life,” Health Minister Jonas Gahr Støre told Aftenposten, referring to a research project presented on Wednesday. “For patients, nurses and families, much uncertainty is removed.”
Freedom and safety
Around 70,000 Norwegians are suffering from dementia, a number that is estimated to double within 30 years. Fully 80 percent of all patients in Norwegian nursing homes also suffer from dementia.
The health minister is now suggesting changes to the law so that all dementia patients can enjoy the benefits of a GPS tracking system.
The plan calls for patients to be given the tracking device even if they do not give their consent. Støre suggests that health care officials who know the patient will make the decision about whether they should be equipped with a GPS.
Thon said the system will demand “good processes” for determining who decides the use of GPS tracking, and Trine Skei Grande, a Member of Parliament and head of the Liberal Party (Venstre) wants families to be involved in the decision.
Alternative to confinement
Støre says the alternative to GPS is to lock the patients up, or at best limit their movements. “With a GPS, the patient has greater freedom,” Støre says, adding that the system would supplement and not replace traditional care and services.
A research project where people with dementia have used a GPS over a period of a few weeks to a year showed that it contributed to the patient feeling safer, more free while also increasing both patients’ and families’ quality of life. Many patients have said they feel safer knowing their families can find them if they get lost.
During the research project, several patients were localized and tracked down by the GPS tracking system after they went missing or failed to show up at a certain place. In one incident, a patient was found at night, far away from his home, after being out all day.
However, the GPS may provide a false sense of security if the technology fails to work or is used incorrectly. The organization of the service may also not function to the best standard or alarms may not go off, the research showed.
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