Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Controversy over dementia tracking tags

There is growing support in the UK for a controversial government proposal to use electronic tags to track people with dementia.

The move is meant to help hospitals keep tabs on dementia patients, but critics warn the program will see technology replace genuine care.

There are about 700,000 people in the UK with dementia; according to research, 60 per cent feel the urge to walk off from their homes, and of these 40 per cent actually get lost, causing distress to themselves and their families.

Now the Alzheimer's Society has backed the tagging plan to track down those people who wander.

Andrew Ketteringham is from the organisation, and he thinks the system could have a role in protecting sufferers and helping carers.

"It does sound like Big Brother, and that's one of the reasons, I think, why we've all been a bit hesitant about it," he said.

"There is a very careful balance that has to be struck here between a restriction in privacy, and possibly civil liberties, but at the same time empowering people to be freer than they have been before, and giving peace of mind to a carer."

The Government flagged the proposal a few months ago, arguing that using this sort of satellite technology to track dementia sufferers is about giving the elderly dignity and independence in old age.

Marilyn Loveday cares for her husband Christopher, who suffers from Alzheimer's.

She says in the earlier stages she would have welcomed electronic tagging.

"He just used to leave the house and we didn't have a clue where he was, and quite often he'd be gone for hours," she said. "It would have stopped a lot of anxiety, us knowing where he was."

British Institute of Human Rights director Katie Ghose warns against the technology replacing genuine care.

"I don't think it should ever be a substitute for proper resources being there, both for Alzheimer's patients, for the carers and the family members, and also the more formal carers, people working in care homes," Ms Ghose said.

"I think that's why some people are rightly questioning this and wanting to be very sure that it's not going to be something that would just be used for convenience, when there could be other measures that could be taken, both to protect people for their own safety, but also, perhaps more fundamentally, to enable them to carry on being as free as they possibly can."

Dr Richard Nicholson, the editor of the Bulletin of Medical Ethics, is one of those people questioning the use of electronic tags.

"The problem with this is that you could see second-class care using it as a way of making life easier for carers, rather than as a way of making life safer or more pleasant for the person with Alzheimer's," he said.

The Alzheimer's Society says decisions about whether to use a tracking device should be discussed with the patient in the earlier stages of dementia.


Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/01/02/2130380.htm?section=world


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