GPS for dementia patients transforming the lives of some Mid Ulster patients

Karen Walls, centre, with some of the Occupational Therapists that won an award for their GPS dementia program
Karen Walls, centre, with some of the Occupational Therapists that won an award for their GPS dementia program

A GPS system that allows people with dementia to go on living their lives independently for as long as possible has won a healthcare award.

Developed by an Occupational Therapy team working with patients in the Northern Trust, dementia sufferers considered suitable for the ‘satnav’ system take it with them when they go out.

This is the best device, it has made such a difference in our lives

Set up to suit their normal routines, walking routes or daily trips, carers are then notified if the person has been gone too long or ventures outside of their normal parameters.

Karen Walls, who has been working as an OT since 1998 and heads up the team that came up with the GPS system, said it has been a real success and has made a huge difference to lives of those found suitable for the application after comprehensive assessments.

Specialising in the care of dementia patients, Karen told the Mail the idea for the GPS system came about five years ago.

“I am the clinical lead occupational therapist for a team who deliver a service to persons with a diagnosis of dementia,” she explained.

“I had the idea that using a Global Positioning System [GPS], that we could really improve the quality of persons with dementia’s lives.

“When I was going out and about doing community work I had seen the possibility that persons with dementia could get lost and we all know the risks that that can bring with it.

“I also saw that they were experiencing a loss of their life role and a loss of hobbies and the physical benefits that can bring. It wasn’t for people who wander, it was for those who enjoy going out for a walk or hobby,” she added.

“We were all very passionate about it because we wanted these people to live well with dementia and to be able to continue doing the things we all do and take so much for granted.”

Now the brains behind the GPS system have been awarded for their life-changing idea.

Karen Walls won the first Mangar award for initiatives that encourage everyday independent living as part of the Advancing Healthcare awards programme in Northern Ireland in recognition of her outstanding work with those who have dementia.

Now those that the GPS system is suitable for can go about their daily routines without the worry of something going wrong.

How it works is, the client wears a device that alerts a carer via a text message or email if they go outside a pre-set boundary.

Proud of the idea and the continued freedom it has given users, Karen said there are now plans to pilot it in other Trusts.

And the reaction, she said has been great, with all service users giving it full marks.

“The feedback has been really positive,” Karen added. “One service user said ‘this is the best device, it has made such a difference to our lives’.”