The use of global position satellite tracking in wandering patients with dementia: feasibility study

In people with dementia, wandering often triggers admission to long-term care, and causes harm and carer stress. There is no robust evidence that alternative community interventions can reduce wandering episodes safely. One potential solution is to use satellite tracking, which can locate users and inform carers if they have left a pre-defined ‘safe zone’. However, it is not clear what constitutes a ‘safe zone’, or whether satellite tracking reduces harm and carer stress or delays long-term admissions. This pilot study explored the acceptability to patients and carers of satellite tracking, the suitability of instruments to measure outcomes such as carer stress, accidents and resource use, and recruitment feasibility. The study found that although GPS tracking is perceived as both useful and acceptable to carers, the relative paucity of current deployment, variation in how it is used, difficulties in collecting social-care data and impracticality of current quality-of-life measures will challenge a RCT in this area.

Outcome and Translation

Dementia is a rapidly growing problem in Scotland. Wandering is a major cause of stress to carers and one of the main reasons why people with dementia are admitted to long-term care. GPS tracking offers a potential method of both relieving carer stress and potentially delaying admission to long-term care.

HERU researchers involved in this research project: Marjon van der Pol

External collaborators: B McKinstry, A Sheikh (University of Edinburgh); G Mead (Royal Infirmary Edinburgh); J Star (Royal Victoria Hospital Edinburgh); J Hanley (Centre for Integrated Healthcare Research); and P Corscadden (City of Edinburgh Council)


Milne, H., McKinstry, B., Flemming, D., Hanley, J., Mead, G., Pol, M.van der., Sheikh, A., Starr, J. and McCloughan, L. (2012) The use of global position satellite tracking in wandering people with dementia: feasibility study. Report to CSO, Edinburgh: Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office.

Milne, H., Pol, M. van der, McCloughan, L., Hanley, J., Mead, G., Starr, J., Sheikh, A. and McKinstry, B. (2014) 'The use of global positional satellite location in dementia: a feasibility study for a randomised controlled trial', BMC Psychiatry, 14, 160.