Drop in dementia patients going missing as sufferers handed GPS tracking kit

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GPS tracking technology has been used to reduce the number of people living with dementia going missing.

Around 60 people used the technology in Hampshire, with Portsmouth City Council saying it is ‘reviewing’ its use of technology and will look at a study that showed a reduction in police call-outs to sufferers issued with the technology.

Hampshire police’s Dave Brown said of the people issued with the technology, there had been a 65 per cent decrease in them being reported missing to police.

The scheme is currently not running in Portsmouth, but social care bosses have said they will look at a study carried out by academics into the GPS scheme, which runs on police referrals.

A Portsmouth City Council spokesman said: ‘This isn’t something we use at the moment, but we’re reviewing our use of technology in social care and we’ll be looking at this study carefully as part of that.’

A Hampshire County Council spokeswoman said 60 people used the GPS technology in the county – but could not say in which areas.

She said patients, or those legally empowered to make such decisions on their behalf, had consented to use the Oysta Pearl device. It can set off an alert if a person leaves a preset area.

Academics have recommended people with dementia should have access to GPS for use by family and police.

Around 500,000 people in the UK have dementia, with 40 per cent getting lost, and 25,000 repeatedly lost. Half of those who repeatedly go missing for more than 24 hours die or are seriously hurt.

Dr Ruth Bartlett, who led the study, said: ‘With increasing numbers of people with dementia living at home and increasing acceptance and usage of digital devices, the use of GPS technologies (amongst others) is likely to expand rapidly.

‘We have been able to show that people who saw a direct benefit to using the device were more likely to want to use it and valued using it.

‘However, it is clear that people need technical support to use such devices and a lot of information can be gained from going out walking with the person. GPS is not fail safe but can help locate a person quickly and subsequently saves lives.’

The scheme, called Operation Magnet, was taken on in Hampshire in 2016. Last year Southampton started using it too.

The Alzheimer’s Society funded the University of Southampton research.