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UK charity backs tags for dementia sufferers

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The UK's Alzheimer's Society has backed the electronic tagging of dementia sufferers to "empower patients by allowing them to wander", the Telegraph reports.

The charity says that many of Britain's 700,000 victims of dementia "feel compelled" to go walkabout - 60 per cent "may wander" and 40 per cent "have got lost at some point", it claims. The ability to track them would allow them the freedom to "roam around their communities" without causing their families unnecessary worry, according to science minister Malcolm Wicks.

Wicks first made the proposal back in April, when he said: "Let's use satellites and satellite technology to tackle some real important social issues that worry many families." He mooted two possible alternatives: RFID tagging which would trigger an alarm if the wearer wandered out of range of a base station; or full-blown GPS tracking.

Neil Hunt, the Alzheimer's Society's chief exec has agreed the tech "could offer benefits to people with dementia and their carers". He did, however, stress: "There is a careful balance to strike between empowering people and restricting their movement and this technology can certainly never be used as an alternative for high quality dementia care."

Dr Richard Nicholson, editor of the Bulletin of Medical Ethics, highlighted the potential for misuse of tracking, telling Radio 5 Live: "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 described the proposal as "not something that ought to go ahead without parliamentary debate and possibly even legislation".

The Alzheimer's Society concluded that "decisions about whether to use a tracking device should be made in conjunction with the person with the disease in the earlier stages of dementia". ®

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