Technology Insight

Dementia: How Security Pros Could Greatly Impact Patients and Caregivers

The security industry can make a real difference in designing specialized solutions for the residential homes and facilities where those living with dementia reside.

Having built and sold a successful alarm company by the age of 25, I found myself wanting to stay in the security business. That thinking eventually led to a sales and marketing career working for Aritech, Radionics and ADEMCO, and via acquisition, Honeywell. I enjoyed a great 35+ years in the security industry, but along the way my wife Ginny sustained a life-changing car accident, which may be what led to the development of a severe cognitive impairment (dementia).

This situation led me to take early retirement from a vocation I loved, to become a full-time caregiver and help Ginny through hospice to the end of her life. I tried to make sense of it and think about how our trials and tribulations could help others. It inspired me to start the Dementia Society of America, a volunteer-driven national nonprofit charity with a mission to serve the public with dementia information and local resources.

I also quickly realized how the work my colleagues in the security industry do could have a major impact on people experiencing dementia and their caregivers.

What is dementia? First, dementia is not a disease. Many professionals often talk about it as if it is, but, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is a syndrome. A syndrome typically has a multiplicity of possible causes, has no meaningful therapies or interventions to stop, reverse or prevent the condition, and ultimately results in death.

The Dementia Society estimates that in addition to Alzheimer’s disease, the other leading causes of dementia, such as cerebrovascular disease, Lewy body disease, frontotemporal degeneration, and more, collectively affect about 9-10 million people in the United States today.

One aspect of dementia is that people often do not feel safe in their own homes. They may believe they are living 50-60 years earlier in life and need to “go home” to see their parents. Or they may want to “go to work,” even years after leaving the workforce.

It is estimated that about 80% of those living with dementia will attempt to leave the safety of their home and venture out to seek a safe space. The technical term for this type of activity is called elopement. This has led to an estimated 200,000 search and rescue missions per year in the U.S. Of those, about 65,000 individuals are forever lost or not found alive. This staggering number may be conservative as many elopement events are not reported.

Where Security Dealers & Integrators Come In

The security industry, including dealers and integrators, can make a real difference in designing specialized security solutions for the residential homes where those living with dementia reside, as well as in the work done to secure senior living communities, etc.

While the perfect solution may not exist yet, there are certainly ways existing security technologies can be applied to this problem. Examples include using door and motion sensors, floor mats, video cameras, activity (or, lack of activity) sensors, professional monitoring that alerts the caregivers, or depending on the situation, a combination of technologies.

At the same time, PERS and certain types of geolocating bracelets, shoe inserts and phone apps are also used in these situations. These have a place if one also understands they can have limitations. For example, will a person living with dementia have the cognitive ability to activate the distress button? Will people living with dementia try to remove objects attached to them? Lastly, care partners may be older or not living 24/7 with the person, and that can result in lost trackers or devices that are not recharged.

I look forward to watching closely as technology evolves and more solutions focusing on the unique aspects of this problem come to fruition. In the meantime, there are a lot of existing products and technologies that can be applied or combined to help protect people living with dementia. During an occurrence of elopement, if one sensor misses the incident, another may work just as intended, to get help — and potentially save a life.

For those in the industry who have installed systems to provide safety and security for people experiencing dementia, perhaps many of these systems have already successfully prevented elopement events — please reach out to me and join the conversation. We should recognize the good work that is already being done and help spread the word to other security professionals.


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