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Technology Nana will love

  • Article by: FRANK JOSSI Special to the Star Tribune
  • January 31, 2012 - 1:34 PM

If someone you know is suffering from dementia, the chances that they will wander off and get lost at some point are high -- up to 60 percent in the case of Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia. And up to half of those who are not found within 24 hours may die, from dehydration, exposure or injury.

You might not be able to stop Mom or Dad from wandering, but thanks to technology, you can make sure they will never get lost.

In Virginia, a man with Alzheimer's is the first person in the country to wear the GPS Smart Shoe -- a range of footwear with built in Global Positioning System technology that allows relatives and caregivers to track dementia sufferers in real time.

The technology is produced by GTX Corp. of Los Angeles and is incorporated into footwear from Aetrex Worldwide Inc. of Teaneck, N.J. It enables tracking online or through a downloadable app, and will even send caregivers a text message if the wearer strays out of a predetermined area.

The GPS shoe is one of many useful innovations for seniors and the people who care for them, dubbed "Nana technology" by senior housing expert Andrew Carle. And it was Carle, who runs the program in senior housing administration at George Mason University, who contacted GTX to suggest that the company's technology would find a receptive audience among children of parents with Alzheimer's and dementia.

The man in Virginia is proof that it works. "I'm actually able to track him on my computer," Carle said, "and it looks today like he's probably running errands with his wife or children because he's been to several places over the last two hours."

"Nana technology" is both a play on the common nickname for grandmothers and on nano technology, which represents everything it is not. Nano technology is about making everything ever smaller, while Nana technology is about making small technology bigger and giving seniors the tools to keep them safe and be more mentally alert.

"I often tell people every year my vision and my manual dexterity get worse while my cell phone gets smaller," Carle said. "Nana technologies go in the opposite direction."

Carle, who now serves as an advisor to GTX, said that while some companies offer GPS pendants and watches to monitor seniors, those devices can be removed too easily. GPS shoes work because getting dressed is part of an individual's "procedural memory," which even seniors with dementia maintain -- the ability to dress and comb their hair, for example.

The GPS shoes cost $300 and require a monthly subscription. The GPS antenna sits at the back of the right shoe and must be periodically plugged in to be recharged.

Such tracking devices are important because more than 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's, and without a cure, those numbers are expected to quadruple to more than 20 million in the U.S. and 106 million worldwide. And more than 80 percent of seniors with Alzheimer's will be cared for by a spouse or a loved one -- not a health care provider.

That's why Carle nominates the GPS shoe as his favorite "Nana technology."

"I'm more proud of my involvement in that than anything I've done," Carle said. "This one is going to save some lives."

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