Ruth Bartlett is the principal investigator who initiated this research. Here, Ruth discusses the importance of a disability rights perspective.

Ruth Bartlett

Around this time two years ago, I watched a news item about Sussex police giving out GPS devices to people with dementia, in an attempt to reduce the distress and costs involved when someone with dementia goes missing. The story led some people to question the use of location technologies with people with dementia, one person even described the practice as ‘barbaric’. This seemed extreme language to me – we’re talking about someone having a device, which lets that person and others know where they are.

Looking at the literature, I realised that while there had been some useful research on the topic, most of it was from quite a medical perspective. This meant that people with dementia were positioned as passive patients or ‘wanderers’ and GPS technologies seen as potentially useful for reducing caregiver burden.

It seemed to me that the whole topic needed to be re-looked at from the perspective of citizens with dementia – that is, through a disability rights lens. In this way, one might better be able to develop effective measures to be taken to promote a person’s social inclusion and personal mobility.

People with dementia, as well as family members, friends and others, are becoming more aware of rights, and are understandably expecting society to do more to reduce discrimination and support people with dementia to live well.

The Dementia Friendly Community initiative in the UK and across the world is creating more spaces and opportunities for this to happen. At the same time, GPS enabled devices and other digital technologies are more becoming more common place and routine feature of all our lives. All of which means, that research into the effectiveness of technologies for safer walking is much needed.

Hence, the development of this participatory study.