Post CES reflection on role of technology and Alzheimer's.
Boston, mid-May, 2016
For wanderers and caregivers – another long-awaited device. Beware of pre-announcements. So GTX has announced that the long-awaited GPS shoe (let's call that 'footware') will be available in October (that’s now!) for $299, enabling a geo-fence to be set for the wearer, alerting when the shoe travels outside of the specified area. From the NY Times article, the argument for the GPS shoe came from Andrew Carle, the coiner of ‘Nana technology’ and a professor at George Mason University. He suggested the idea to Aetrex, the shoe manufacturer, which first announced that it was going to begin product testing in 2009. I got pretty excited by that in 2009, but after placing a call every six months to learn that it was not available, I gave up.
So this is a remarkable advance, right? Combining GPS tracking with an orthopedic shoe is progress over WanderGuard type devices, mobile PERS, and other tracking variants, according to Andrew Carle, who is quoted in Paula Span’s NY Times article as saying: "GPS devices carried in pockets, worn on wristbands or clipped to clothing are less reliable aids because people can and do lose or remove them. Ditto for bracelets or pendants bearing their names and family contact numbers. They may be less likely, however, to take off their shoes. The GPS Shoe, manufactured by a New Jersey company, hides a miniature locator in the heel of one shoe and counterweighs the other so they feel balanced."
So what’s happened since 2009? This introduction is a great example of the risk of announcing an offering in the dementia technology space quite a bit more than two years before shipping a product. Can you imagine how many calls were placed to Foot.com (the originally-announced retailer), to Aetrex, to GTX, or to Andrew Carle, for that matter, since the announcement -- pleas from worried caregivers of the 5 million or more in the US who are believed to have dementia? How worried? But in 2008 and 2009, Silver Alert programs were launched in at least 20 states to warn that family members have driven off and may be lost. That’s right, these family members are driving in cars described on flashing signs on roads like Route 95 in Florida -- where there are an alleged 400,000 individuals living with dementia, upwards of 100,000 likely living alone – and just think, no one seems to know how many of them are driving.
What happened in the tech world since 2009 with GPS tracking? The Alzheimer's Association partnered with Omnilink in 2009 to offer Comfort Zone. And more recently the smart phone happened, now loaded with emergency response applications. And mobile PERS devices began appearing – Mobile Help launched the company in December, 2009. Active Care has one and a variety of other GPS tracking devices, smaller, can be pinned to the back of a shirt and are now built in to cars. Sporting a similar announce-too-long-before-shipping approach, LifeComm presumably will soon move beyond its pre-launch stage, which has taken so long that Google Health had time to rise and fall.
Who will agree to be notified upon a departure from a pre-set zone? As Carolyn Rosenblatt noted in Forbes – the shoe must be accompanied by willing caregivers keeping track of wandering seniors. Will it take off as a tech tool in assisted living communities where residents can come and go freely, even those with dementia? I doubt it. I wonder if these assisted living communities will knowingly agree to the perceived responsibility of having to stay in touch with the PC and phone-based notifications. Maybe they will respond with agreements that require family to be notified as first responder. Or maybe they will use the introduction of the GPS shoe with residents that staff believes are at a stage to move over to memory care.