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Smart shoe insoles aims to help track patients with Alzheimer's disease

Tuesday - 3/25/2014, 5:03am  ET

WASHINGTON -- As doctors explore why more seniors are diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, science is coming up with a way to help counteract a major problem related to the disease -- wandering -- with GPS technology.

So far, the problem hasn't been about applying GPS technology to finding patients, says George Mason University professor Andrew Carle. It was finding a way to hide it from Alzheimer's sufferers prone to taking off unfamiliar items, such as a bracelet, that contained the GPS.

But what about shoes?

"What we know about shoes is, procedural memory is actually the last memory retained in people with Alzheimer's," Carle says.

Until the end, sufferers remember how to get dressed, keep clothes on and simple everyday habits.

So GPS trackers inside rechargeable Smart Soles transmit the wearer's location on demand, as well as when he or she goes outside a set radius determined by their caregiver.

"Rather than being a prisoner in their own home, you set up the geo-zone ... If he breaks that zone, then anybody you program in will get text messages and emails not only letting you know he broke the zone, but gives you a Google map that shows you exactly where he is," Carle says.

The tracker can help those suffering with Alzheimer's disease ride their bikes or go for walks -- activities that can be good for them in the earlier stages, Carle says. Some physical activities can delay the onset of the symptoms, he adds.

Wearers can cut the inserts to fit their shoes, which charge statically on a charging mat. The battery life on the inserts is three days. They'll even send a text when the device is running low on battery.

Carle heard about the insoles being developed by the GTX Corporation out of Los Angeles for endurance athletes and to help in missing children cases. He contacted GTX when he saw how the organization could help with what he sees as a greater need.

"This isn't just about the safety of the person who might wander; this is about peace of mind for 15 million family caregivers," he says.

Caregivers report that the primary stress in their lives comes from the fear that they'll turn their back and the patient will walk off.

After spending 25 years working with seniors and seeing many wandering cases, Carle says he's thrilled that the technology is finally coming to the market.

"The other issue goes to dignity, because some of the individuals in the early stages don't want to be seen with these devices on. But the shoes are just their shoes," he says.

He expects they'll be available for purchase online by late summer.

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