Wandering – Shouldn’t We Be Talking RF Not GPS Technology?

Wandering –

Shouldn’t We Be Talking RF Not GPS Technology?

By Mike Good, founder of Together In This

Elopement is a common concern families face when their loved one is dealing with a neurological problem such as Alzheimer’s disease or Autism. With Alzheimer’s disease, this risk for wandering not only increases family stress but it can reduce the independence of the person with the disease.

Electronic location devices can improve a family’s peace of mind. Should a loved one become lost, they know there is a system in place to help locate their loved one. These devices can also help maintain the independence of the person with Alzheimer’s. These people, who are active but understand they are at risk for becoming lost, will have more confidence to move about freely when wearing the device.

What about GPS?

With GPS now commonly found in our cars and in our smart phones, it’s no wonder it’s the first technology people think of in this situation. GPS devices generally rely on the caregiver or a monitoring service to locate the missing person.

Many people find this technology complicated and too expensive, and therefore, don’t utilize it. GPS also has limitations. As most of us have learned, GPS doesn’t work in some remote locations, within buildings, or when obstructed by large objects such as a building or heavy vegetation.

Battery life is also very short and recharging requires frequent removal of the device. This in itself poses problems as most people struggling with this disease like consistency, and frequent changes may result in increased resistance.

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A Better Solution?

There is another option that is often overlooked primarily because local law enforcement agencies must lead the effort. Radio frequency (RF) technology utilizes FM (same as your car stereo) and is arguably a better overall solution. Chief Saunders, founder of Project Life Saver, stated on the Alzheimer’s Speaks Radio show, “RF tends to work 100% of the time.”

As with all technology, there are always trade offs. Although these systems require the user to wear an unattractive watch-like device, battery life can be between 1 and 61 months depending on the device. This is obviously a vast improvement over a GPS battery which lasts roughly 2 days.

Each participant within an agency’s jurisdiction is assigned a unique frequency. That frequency is programmed into the individual’s device which is generally a bracelet and worn like a watch. The bracelet will then emit a signal that can be received by an antenna which is either hand-held, mounted to the roof of a car, or even attached to a helicopter.

These signals can be detected within 1 mile in searches conducted on the ground and up to 7 miles in searches done by helicopter2. Since a mobile person can walk approximately 4 miles in an hour, success of these devices is vastly improved the sooner the person is reported missing.

Once search and rescue personnel are notified, they immediately respond to the person’s last known location. These rescue teams are trained on how to properly use the receiving equipment and, importantly, how to deal with Alzheimer’s specific challenges. They are also provided with a profile of the lost individual that was created during the registration process.

Having trained personnel conduct the search relieves the caregiver of the additional stress and allows for a more effective search. Since its inception in 1999, Project Life Saver has found more than 2,897 lost individuals in an average time of 30 minutes or less.3

Which Device is Right for You?

No system is 100% successful and each situation requires its own unique set of safeguards. There are a lot of factors to take into consideration when selecting a tracking device and this report funded by the Canadian Ministry of Community and Social Services  provides some great details including extensive information with an in-depth comparison of these technologies.

It’s evident that GPS is not ideal for everyone but RF technology is not available for everyone. As a result, it’s imperative that local agencies put systems in place to help the growing number of caregivers and their loved ones survive these situations. These agencies, however, must be influenced to implement the RF technology in their community either by their own personal experience or by the general public.

To get more information that you can provide to you local agency contact Project Lifesaver or LoJack SafetyNet today.

Do you use a tracking device? Please share your experience in the comments below.


1 https://www.safetynetbylojack.com/pressrelease/index.cfm/15

2 https://www.safetynetbylojack.com/Caregivers/Fact_sheet

3 http://www.projectlifesaver.org/project-lifesaver/

About the Author: Mike Good is founder of Together in This an online community helping family members caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. Through short, informative articles and easy-to-use tools, such as the Introductory Guide to Alzheimer’s, he helps them take control and have peace-of-mind they are doing the right things.

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7 Replies to “Wandering – Shouldn’t We Be Talking RF Not GPS Technology?”

  1. Thanks Lori for sharing this article with your audience. I really hope we can bring more awareness to community leaders and help our friends with dementia stay safe.

  2. This is nonsense.

    RFI has extremely limited range without a large antenna. Even for those with extended range – a signal that MAY be picked up from 1-7 miles away does not then begin to tell the person with the receiver in what direction that may be. Think about 1-7 miles in any direction from where you are right now. It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. This is even before the time lost waiting for someone with a RECEIVER which is REQUIRED to show up at “place last seen”, by which time the lost person could be out of range rendering the entire thing useless.

    GPS uses satellite and cellular to locate someone within 3 feet in 99% of the populated planet – which by definition is where the PEOPLE, especially those with dementia, are. GPS battery life can last 2-3 days without charging, which hasn’t stopped 3 billion people worldwide from owning a cell phone.

    The fact that GPS is superior in every way to RFI is as simple as the fact that no one uses a CB radio anymore when they can use a cell phone. For this article to suggest essentially using a CB radio to find a loved one vs GPS is ill advised and uninformed.

  3. Carl, I don’t think it is “either/or”

    Designing products for people living with dementia and their care providers is a wicked problem that I’ve been pondering.

    GPS and RFI as lost person finders both have pluses and minuses, and maybe can be combined in a belt-and-suspenders device that could offer the precision of GPS in the first day or three after its latest recharging (which may be a day or two prior to the wandering event) as well as a less immediately geographically precise but longer-active RFI-based transponder/detector system.

    Even a tech-savvy geek like me occasionally forgets to charge his iPhone.

    When the device-maintainer is an elderly and/or non-techy person (caregiver or person living with dementia), such lapses are even more likely. The good design solution has to take this human factor into account as much as possible.

    The GPS part of the device would be programmed to send a “last-powered-location” just before its battery dies, which might provide a clue for where to start looking.

    And might we look to the possibility of a passive (no battery required) RFI chip (like that in my car’s bridge toll-paying transponder) that would respond to a detector’s query signal? Perhaps offering ID, distance and perhaps even directional info? In a “wilderness” search, even a limited 1 to 7 mile call-and-respond range would help enormously.

    The detector could be part of the standard Search and Rescue Team’s kit… like the increasingly common portable defibrillator.

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