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Dementia group urges government to subsidize GPS devices

2012/03/31 16:22:09

Taipei, March 31 (CNA) A group that advocates services for people suffering from dementia on Saturday urged the government to subsidize global positioning system (GPS) tracking devices for individuals suffering from the disorder that causes them to lose cognitive ability.

The Taiwan Alzheimer's Disease Association said equipping sufferers of the illness with the device will prevent them from wandering in the streets and enable family members to find them easily.

"A GPS locator is just too expensive for an average family to afford," said Tang Li-yu, secretary-general of the association.

The service would likely include a NT$6,000 (US$188) cellphone-like tracking device and a monthly maintenance fee of NT$600, according to a local provider.

Tang's organization has been lobbying the Ministry of the Interior to share the cost with patients' families for years, but to no avail.

But even Tang admits that even though having the GPS device would be handy, there are cheaper alternatives to helping dementia patients find their way home.

Some of these cheaper methods include having patients' fingerprints taken at a police station, wearing a bracelet with the patient's home address or a family member's contact details on it, stitching names on personal belongings and putting name cards in bags. Such methods are useful ways for people to identify seniors wandering around so they can help them find their way home, Tang said.

"Your best bet would be to apply all the above means to ensure efficiency," she said.

As of the end of 2011, there were 35,783 reported case of dementia in Taiwan, most of whom are people 65 years or older. The number continues to increase steadily, according to government statistics.

"As much as we would like to have senior patients use GPS, it's just too costly," said Yu Fang-ling, a public relations officer at Saint Mary's Hospital in Luodong.

Yu's hospital received 20 free GPS devices from Taiwan Secom Company Ltd., a local provider, several years ago and has been distributing and redistributing them to elders living alone and those with chronic ailments.

But the company's spokesman Max Chu said the market for elderly people using GPS devices is not as large as the company had expected.

While well-off families prefer to hire a caretaker to follow their loved ones around, others have the tendency to keep dementia patients at home at all times.

There are only about 3,000 clients, including children and elderly, using the GPS locator in Taiwan, he added.

(By Nancy Liu)