Tagging dementia patients - is this right or wrong?

Dr Penny Foulds from Lancaster University, who as part of a research team is looking into developing a blood test for Parkinson's Disease.
Dr Penny Foulds from Lancaster University, who as part of a research team is looking into developing a blood test for Parkinson's Disease.

Dementia patients in Lancaster and Morecambe who go missing regularly could be tagged as part of a bid by police to protect vulnerable people.

Police in Lancashire are exploring the use of GPS technology to help keep track of vulnerable people after being awarded a £2.2 million funding grant from The Home Office.

Dementia can be isolating.

Dementia can be isolating.

But groups and charities representing older people and people with dementia say the potential advantages to an individual must be balanced with the protection of their civil liberties.

In Sussex, people with dementia who have opted into a scheme being trialled over the next few months by Sussex Police along with East Sussex County Council are equipped with GPS personal locator devices.

Sgt Lynda Lynch, missing persons co-ordinator for Sussex Police, said: “We devote a huge amount of resources to missing person enquiries, which can include scouring CCTV and deploying officers to locations where they might be.

“This kind of technology enables us to locate missing persons much more quickly and easily, ensuring we can get to them and bring them home safely before they come to any harm.”

Clive Grunshaw police and crime commissioner

Clive Grunshaw police and crime commissioner

The equipment allows people with dementia or short-term memory loss to be quickly located if they go missing or are in trouble, so relatives, carers or the police can assist them.

A range of technology is being trialled with varying functions, including allowing people to summon help by pressing an SOS button, alerting the authorities in the event of a fall or triggering an alert if someone leaves a designated ‘safe area’.

Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw said: “I am delighted that the Home Office has awarded this funding so we can further develop our approach to Early Action to tackle major issues right across Lancashire.

“My Police and Crime plan priorities included protecting vulnerable people tackling crime and re-offending and this bid (for £2.2 million) will form a key part of that delivery.

“The benefits of this programme centre on reducing vulnerability and crime, improving the wellbeing of our communities and improving the life chances of those involved in or at risk of engaging in organised crime.”

Additional actions include deploying mental health staff within the Constabulary’s contact centre providing vital support at key times; having key workers to reduce re-offending and having extra ambulance workers in each Early Action team to work with high intensive users.

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Bates, lead for Early Action in Lancashire Constabulary said: “Securing this vital funding from the Home Office means that we can push forward with delivering early intervention to children, families and adults across the whole county together with our partner agencies.”

Up to 100 local authorities across the country already use GPS technology to track dementia patients, but is not clear whether GPS technology is used in Lancashire at present.