In the last fortnight I’ve visited care homes in Hassocks and Petworth, both of which have special facilities for people who have dementia.
Because people are living for longer, dementia is growing. There are an estimated 13,500 dementia sufferers in West Sussex and that number is set to rise by a third over the next decade.
Dementia Awareness Week will run from 19 to 25 May and aims to build understanding about a condition which touches so many families.
It can be a huge worry for relatives when dementia sufferers wander off and are unable to find their way back home.
So I was interested to hear this week about the Sussex Police MindMe pilot scheme, which is monitored by Chichester Careline and run by Chichester District Council.
The scheme gives dementia sufferers who frequently disappear from their homes a GPS tracker.
The device is used with the consent of the individual concerned and their families, and gives them huge reassurance. It can help to locate a missing person, and gives people with dementia more independence.
So it was disappointing to hear criticism of the scheme. One pressure group even said it was “barbaric” and would treat patients like criminals.
Yet local families who have taken part in the scheme have sung its praises. One West Sussex resident said that without it he would not have found his wife who became ill and fell after going the wrong way on her walk.
Technology needn’t be a substitute for care - it can help us to care.
Not so long ago, GPS tracking technology was a new and expensive thing. Now it’s within the reach of most households, with sat-navs in our cars and in smart phones.
And it has still untapped potential to transform public services. For instance, satellite tracking can identify exactly where offenders are to enforce curfews.
I’ve seen a pilot scheme in action and the results are impressive, helping to reduce re-offending and protect the public.
It’s important to safeguard civil liberties, but don’t let’s get the debate out of proportion.
Technology can save taxpayers’ money and make public services more efficient, but it can also help to protect vulnerable people and the public.
So let’s think about how to use it creatively and sensibly rather than allowing knee-jerk opposition to every new scheme.
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