Intended for healthcare professionals

Head To Head

Should patients with dementia who wander be electronically tagged? Yes

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 20 June 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3603
  1. Rupert McShane, consultant in old age psychiatry
  1. 1Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, Oxford, UK
  1. Rupert.McShane{at}

Technology that allows real time tracking is being pushed by authorities to cut the costs of finding patients who have got lost. Rupert McShane says GPS tracking reduces risk of harm for some patients who wander and that ethical risks are slight, but Desmond O’Neill (doi:10.1136/bmj.f3606) thinks that care must be patient centred rather than looking for quick fixes to suit carers

When a previous chief executive of the UK charity the Alzheimer’s Society wrote in a newsletter that if he had dementia he wanted to be allowed to go out and risk getting lost without having a “GPS tag”—a device that uses global positioning systems to determine location—he received a large mailbag from carers telling him, forcefully, that they disagreed.

Anyone who has lost a child in a public place will remember the cold sweat, the fear in the pit of the stomach, and the guilt as you realise that you have failed to keep them safe. It is the same for carers of people with dementia.

If the risk of getting lost is recognised simple precautions can help. A £15 (€18; $23) pair of transmitters will sound an alarm if the person gets separated in a shopping mall. A cheap buzzer can waken a …

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