Mon, Oct 24, 2011 - Page 10 News List

GPS shoes for those with Alzheimer’s ready for US market

AFP, Washington

The first shoes with a built-in GPS device — to help track down dementia-suffering seniors who wander off and get lost — are set to hit the US market this month, the manufacturer says.

GTX Corp said the first batch of 3,000 pairs of shoes had been shipped to the footwear firm Aetrex Worldwide, two years after plans were announced to develop the product.

The shoes will retail at about US$300 a pair and buyers will be able to set up a monitoring service to locate “wandering” seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Andrew Carle, a professor at George Mason University’s College of Health and Human Services who was an adviser on the project, said the shoes were likely to save lives and avoid embarrassing and costly incidents involving the elderly.

“It’s especially important for people in the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s who are at the highest risk,” Carle said. “They might be living in their home, but they’re confused. They go for a walk and they can get lost for days.”

Carle said studies indicate more than 5 million people in the US suffer from Alzheimer’s, a number expected to quadruple in the coming years. He said 60 percent of sufferers will wander and become lost and up to half of those lost who are not found within 24 hours could die, from dehydration, exposure or injury.

Other devices such as bracelets or pendants can provide similar protection, but seniors often reject these.

“The primary reason is that paranoia is a manifestation of the disease,” Carle said.

The GPS system, which is implanted in the heel of a shoe, allows family members or caregivers to monitor the wearer and to set up a “geofence” that would trigger an alert if the wearer strayed beyond a certain area.

The shoes are being developed by GTX Corp, which makes miniaturized Global Positioning Satellite tracking and location-transmitting technology, and Aetrex. They received certification from the US Federal Communications Commission this year.

“This is a significant milestone for both companies and while the US$604 billion worldwide cost of dementia has become and will continue to be a significant fiscal challenge, the under US$300 GPS-enabled shoes will ease the enormous physical and emotional burden borne by Alzheimer’s victims, caregivers and their geographically distant family members,” GTX Corp chief executive Patrick Bertagna said.

Carle said the original idea was to develop the shoes for children and long-distance runners, but he persuaded the makers to change their plans, noting that the devices could also help ease a lot of anxiety about seniors who want to remain active.

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