Intended for healthcare professionals


Electronic tagging of people with dementia who wander

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 19 October 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:847

Ethical considerations are possibly more important than practical benefits

  1. Julian C Hughes, consultant in old age psychiatry. (,
  2. Stephen J Louw,, consultant physician (
  1. Gibside Unit, Centre for the Health of the Elderly, Newcastle General Hospital, Newcastle upon Tyne NE4 6BE
  2. Care of the Elderly Directorate, Freeman Hospital, Newcastle upon Tyne NE7 7DN

    Once again the issue of using electronic tagging to safeguard older people who wander has attracted media attention.1 It is tempting to see the arguments as simply two sided—one side stressing the need to ensure safety and the other waving the banners of civil liberties and human rights. We think that this is not simply a factual matter but one that touches important values to do with respect for people. The correct position, therefore, is to face the complex dilemma. Decisions about limiting a person's liberty should remain a matter of ethical concern even when technology finally makes the practical management of wandering easier.In electronic tagging the tag is usually a wristband. The circuitry in the tag may either set off a boundary alarm or emit a radio signal that allows the wearer to be tracked down by means of a hand held detector.

    The problem of wandering in dementia is not trivial. It causes stress to carers, referrals to psychiatric services and hospital admissions, problems in the hospital …

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