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Satellite tracking in dementia

The use of global position satellite (GPS) tracking in wandering patients with dementia: a feasibility study.


Global Positioning Systems (GPS) have been suggested as an intervention to support people with dementia who ‘wander’ (become lost outside their homes) to continue walk independently while ameliorating carers’ stress.

However, no high quality trials on the effectiveness of GPS devices have been conducted. 


A definitive randomized controlled trial (RCT) of GPS devices to manage wandering in people with dementia is likely to be challenging.

The aims of this study were:

  • to determine the acceptability of GPS tracking to carers and people with dementia 
  • to assess the suitability of outcome measures to inform the design of a potential RCT
Carer with elderly woman


Nine people with dementia, 16 carers and 15 professionals were recruited in Lothian and Fife through social care.

  • Semi-structured interviews were conducted with carers and people with dementia within a month of being assessed for GPS service and again up to seven months later.
  • Questionnaires exploring quality-of-life, mental health and carer-strain were conducted.
  • NHS and social-care resource use was recorded.
  • Semi-structured interviews and a focus-group were conducted with the professionals.


The technology was perceived as both useful and acceptable by carers and people with dementia, but may sometimes be provided too late in the illness, when carers and/or people with dementia have already lost confidence in the person’s ability to go out independently.

The devices are used to facilitate walking in some contexts and as a means of preventing wandering in others.

Most measures were acceptable to carers, but a feasible quality-of-life measure for people with dementia still needs to be identified.

It was feasible to extract economic data on resource use from healthcare records, but data from social care records were incomplete.


The use of global positional satellite location in dementia: a feasibility study for a randomised controlled trial (BMC Psychiatry, 2014) 


Funder Chief Scientist Office
Chief investigator Prof Brian McKinstry

Donna Fleming, Dr Janet HanleyProf Gillian MeadProf Marjon van der Pol

Prof Aziz SheikhProf John StarrDr Roberto RabinovichProf Chris Weir

Study researcher Heather Milne