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Long-awaited GPS footware will enter a different world

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. 


Even the orthopedic shoe segment (as niche as that is and will continue to be) has recognized that "sensible shoes with a velcro strap" (orthotic footware -- not a very friendly or marketing attractive term) need to have some contemporary design look. This is not the "Birkenstock Generation" despite the humor around the impact of the 60s on first decade Boomers.

And another comment from e-mail:


GPS Devices do not work indoors.


And who is going to make sure that the shoes are plugged in and charged when needed? These kind of solutions seem rather impractical unless you have a live-in family member or caregiver who visits often enough to charge the devices.

My study to-date, in China and discussions finds the elderly tracking scenario highly impractical!
Challenge of religious placement on person tenuous
Battery recharging responsibility subjective
Batterly longevity is real issue, must discover 3-6-12 month battery life
Challenge of religious placement on person highly unlikely
Battery recharging responsibility very challenging
Batterly longevity is important issue, must discover 3-6-12 month battery life
Until we discover a permanently attached device (to/in human body that is acceptable on a
moral platform) the issue of maintaining attachment will make the results and practicality a key to mass implementation.
Even so, there must be the consideration of life of the device's ability to transmit as well as size.
Similar to the challenge of hearing aids (people get them but don't use them), safety device buttons to be worn (either they are not put on, or even if worn they are not utilized).
The major challenge is not invention of device but usability, more attention in design must be practicality NOT of application but of true implementation and benefit of the user!!!!!!!

I appreciate the idea of GPS efforts in the elder living environment. Shoes however are taken off and many persons have more than one pair of shoes. We need something that isn’t taken off as regularly as shoes and it has to offer the individual something they need. How about a watch? But make it the best watch! Large digital back lit easy to read. Able to handle lithium battery technology that’s rechargeable if needed, battery low indicator, self-charging through movement etc. What about a button showing the programmed contact information if lost and the name of the person? A small RFID “radio frequency identification” with GPS. Or how about blood pressure and heart rate? I could go on and on but the idea is make it a more useful item so they don’t want to take it off. But of course this can be hard for a person with memory difficulties in that they could forget what it’s for but how nice for a care giver to see blood and heart rate? Or even if the watch is removed by showing no activity or that the watch strap has been separated and is no longer producing a closed circuit? This information can be communicated remotely too.
Someday everyone, it will happen and the baby boomers will figure it out, and it’s because it’s what they won’t and are preparing for.
Never stop dreaming!
Thomas Stearns
Aging in Place Environmental Health and Safety Services for seniors.

This is an interesting technological advancement that many professionals in the senior care industry will be happy about. Families with elderly folks suffering from Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia would benefit from this innovative assistive technology. Alzheimer’s is an incurable form of dementia that affects an individual’s memory, behavior and thinking patterns. The effects of Alzheimer’s typically become worse over time and interfere with an individual’s ability to complete normal activities of daily living, as well as their ability to recognize typically familiar people. A pair of GPS shoes would really make a big difference. Private care agencies might also want to include a GPS locator into their home health software so they know where to locate their patients.

As the company that created the technology for the GPS Shoe (GTX Corporation) we have received ongoing Google Alerts from your blog regarding this technology – in nearly every case providing inaccurate or poorly researched information:

1. There has never been a formal announcement of the shoes release until last month, when FCC approval for their sale was provided, and the first of 3,000 pairs went into production. Previous releases have focused on patents and licensing agreements achieved – standard information for the development of a new technology. There is nothing unusual about a new technology requiring 2-3 years to come to market, as well as updates or even estimates of its release date being provided, and often changed. Your statement that an “offering in the dementia technology space” had been made “more than two years before shipping” is incorrect reflects a basic lack of understanding of the product development process.

2. Your question of how many “pleas from worried caregivers of the 5 million” afflicted were received by Aetrex, GTX, or Andrew Carle can be easily answered: None. In the first case because no formal announcement of a release has ever been made. Secondly in that any inquires received were simply to request notification of when the shoes would be available. As someone professing to report on technology, it would have been appropriate to contact the sources above for such information, prior to dramatic speculation.

3. Your statement that you “doubt” any assisted living communities will express interest in such technology indicates that you either know little about assisted living and/or have not researched a single provider in this regard. We have been contacted by numerous assisted living communities, including some of the industry’s largest providers, many of whom are excited about this technology.

4. Your concern that “someone will have to agree to be notified upon departure (of the wearer) from a pre-set zone” is nonsensical. The very purpose of the shoes is to provide notification. No one would purchase them for any other purpose. Your reference to Carolyn Rosenblatt’s Forbes article stating concern some caregivers may then assume the wearer does not need to be watched, both ignores her overall support for the shoe, as well as focuses on the small minority of potential abusers of the technology compared to the more than 5 million caregivers for whom it would be a life enhancing asset.

5. Andrew Carle is a consultant advisor for GTX Corporation, not Aetrex as you’ve indicated, and as documented in more than 200 media stories on the shoes worldwide during the past two years. Nor did Aetrex announce product testing in 2009, as they did not sign a licensing agreement for the technology until 2010.
In previous postings you have suggested that the GPS shoe would “never happen” (less than 3 months before their announced release). You have also questioned whether the shoes would come with a monitoring service - the equivalent of suggesting we would spend years and millions of dollars creating a cell phone that would not then have cellular service.

It is our assumption that you either have a very small following of your blog, or your readers will eventually see the overall lack of research and expertise in your postings. If you were blogging about the latest iPhone or HDTV, such opinions would not matter. While we are not claiming the GPS shoe technology will be perfect or address every circumstance, the technologies you cover can affect quality of life for millions and deserve a much higher level of reporting.

The shoes that warn you sound like they could be a good idea - but I'm not quite sure that keeps a person from falling - unless they have presence of mind and enough balance control to catch themselves.  My mother falls 5 or 6 times a year.  This year is the first time she actually hurt herself.  She is 89 and she has fractured 4 vertebrae and 7 ribs.  She has very bad hammer toes on both feet that make her very unbalanced - and nothing seems to be able to be done for them.  Problem is, she usually just ends up on the floor and doesn't even know she is falling - I'm not sure how the type of shoe you mention would help in these circumstances.

Even if the airbag only works if falling backwards at least that would help prevent fractured vertebrae.  As mentioned, how do you get an elderly person to strap on the bag - I think there would be a problem with compliance, but it would probably work best in a nursing home or assisted living facility where someone would actually strap the airbag on for them and watch that it is worn.


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