Lost and Found

Researchers are creating a dementia-approved GPS scale to ease the worry of wandering.

Getting lost can be a major concern for persons living with dementia and their care partners. Traditionally, medications, restraints and physical barriers were used to ease this worry. But the recent consensus is to find ways to increase independence for people living with dementia while reducing care partner stress.

To this end, a rising number of people are turning to wearable locator devices, such as GPS-enabled watches, lanyards and shoe insoles. But with so many options available, there can be uncertainty in choosing a quality device.

"If you get lost and you have a good device to locate you fast, it could be the difference between life and death."

– Dr. Antonio Miguel-Cruz

Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario are trying to help by developing a dementia-friendly universal scale to evaluate different devices, allowing future users to see how each rate.

“The scale’s purpose is to provide the information needed to make a right decision,” says Dr. Antonio Miguel-Cruz, lead researcher for the project. “If you get lost and you have a good device to locate you fast, it could be the difference between life and death.”

Dementia-centred planning

Formally titled Technology acceptance and usability of locator device scale, its development began in 2020 with funding provided by AGE-WELL NCE, Canada’s technology and aging network. Rooted in theories of behavioural psychology, the scale is now in its final of three development phases:

  • Phase 1: Assessing need

Researchers conducted a systematic literature review and confirmed that existing GPS scales were too complicated, confusing and inaccessible for persons living with dementia and their care partners, showing the need for such a scale.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

  • Phase 2: Designing

Five focus groups were held with care partners, people living with dementia, clinicians and technology developers to plan scale substance and design, with each group giving input on its needs and expectations.

Using this advice, researchers completed one version of the scale for care partners and a dementia-approved version, with special attention paid to font size, wording, colour and format. “It’s simple, fast, intuitive, comprehensive and based on co-design,” Miguel-Cruz says.

  • Phase 3: Testing (current)

The scale will now be tested by 60 persons living with dementia and care partners to ensure it works and measures up against other scales in terms of information and usability.

Scale availability

After the scale is published academically in 2023, researchers intend to make it available to the public through a website, which will use the dementia-friendly design advice provided by the focus groups.

“People are eagerly waiting, not only people living with dementia and their caregivers, but also long-term care facilities, hospitals and community organizations,” says Miguel-Cruz. “We heard all the voices of the users — everything is based on what we know and on what they said — which is what makes the scale so important.”


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