Dementia is a severe neurodegenerative disorder that causes cognitive decline and memory loss. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 47 million persons worldwide live with dementia and the number is expected to triple by 2050.

As the population ages, it becomes increasingly important to find ways to support individuals living with the condition and their caregivers. One potential technological solution is using tracking devices implanted in persons living with dementia to track their movements and alert caregivers to potential safety risks.

While this technology may seem promising, it raises significant ethical concerns about privacy and autonomy. In this article, we will explore the use of tracking devices used on persons living with dementia and the ethical implications of such technology.

The use of tracking technology in persons living with dementia, particularly electronic tags, has become increasingly common in recent years. However, the idea of using tracking devices on persons living with dementia is not new.

Several studies have explored the use of tracking technologies in the area of dementia care to improve safety and quality of life. One study conducted in the Netherlands, for example, found that GPS tracking devices could help persons living with dementia remain independent while also reassuring caregivers.

Another study conducted in the UK found that RFID tags could be used to track the movement of persons living with dementia in care homes to improve safety.

One of the primary benefits of using tracking devices is, in fact, increased safety. Those living with dementia face a higher chance of wandering aimlessly or getting lost, potentially rendering them vulnerable to accidents. An electronic tag presents an opportunity for observing the person’s movements remotely, which could potentially reduce the risk of precarious incidents from occurring, as well as decrease the risk of possible injury.

Furthermore, caregivers taking care of those living with dementia would have peace knowing that their loved ones are safe as they would be able to locate them easily if necessary.

Caring for individuals living with dementia can be a difficult task that may result in stress and anxiety. Through the implementation of such electronic tagging, it becomes possible to monitor an individual’s whereabouts remotely, which helps reduce some of the negative emotions associated with constant watching for the person’s safety. As such, caregivers would have more freedom without jeopardising or endangering those under their care.

While there are benefits to using electronic tags, there are also concerns about their misuse and ethical concerns. For example, using tracking devices on persons with dementia may compromise their privacy and autonomy. Dementia persons are already vulnerable and using tracking technologies without the possibility of consent at late stages may further exacerbate feelings of helplessness.

Privacy is a fundamental human right and individuals have the right to control their personal information. However, using tracking devices on dementia persons raises significant privacy concerns as it involves collecting and storing personal data such as location information.

Additionally, the use of tracking technologies may infringe upon the autonomy of dementia persons as it requires monitoring and regulating their movements.

While there are benefits to using electronic tags, there are also concerns about their misuse and ethical concerns

Furthermore, using tracking devices on dementia persons may also create a power imbalance between the caregiver and the person with dementia. The caregiver may have access to significant personal information, which could be used to control the person with dementia, which might lead to a loss of trust between the individual and the caregiver, negatively affecting the provided care.

Additionally, the use of tracking technologies may perpetuate stigma and stereotypes about dementia and contribute to the social exclusion of these individuals.

Another significant ethical concern in the use of tracking devices on persons living with dementia is the issue of stigma and social exclusion. Dementia is already stigmatised and tracking technologies may perpetuate negative stereotypes about dementia persons.

Using tracking devices may also contribute to social exclusion as it may reinforce the idea that persons with dementia are different or abnormal.

Furthermore, using tracking devices may also have implications for the individual’s sense of identity. Persons tracked with such devices may already struggle with self-identity issues. Having tracking technologies may exacerbate feelings of disempowerment and loss of control, negatively affecting the person with dementia’s mental health and well-being.

An additional undesirable aspect of electronic tags is the possibility of providing a false sense of security. While these tags may furnish a technique to oversee one’s whereabouts, they are not capable of impeding wandering or disorientation. There are also concerns about the reliability and accuracy of electronic tags.

GPS technology can be affected by factors such as weather, terrain and obstructions. It is, thus, important to ensure that the electronic tag is reliable and accurate and that caregivers are trained on how to use it effectively. Therefore, caregivers must remain vigilant while taking prudent measures accordingly.

Conclusively, the utilisation of electronic tags among individuals living with dementia can provide an elevated sense of security and solace to caregivers. Nevertheless, there are apprehensions with regard to probable disadvantages and limitations associated with this technology.

It is paramount that one takes into account the implications of utilising electronic tags after conferring extensively with both the person experiencing dementia as well as their family members or caretakers.

Careful deliberation must be given towards assessing advantages versus risks when deciding on implementing these tracking technologies while ensuring utmost care for privacy, preservation in harmony while maintaining respect for human dignity.

Jason Farrugia Cefai is an occupational therapist with special interest in dementia care at St Vincent De Paul Residence. He is also a council member of the Maltese Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics (MAGG).


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