A state-of-the-art tracking system for Alzheimer’s disease patients has been developed by the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry. Now in its trial run, the programme aims to provide caregivers with an alternative method of monitoring their family members.
TWO Alzheimer’s disease (AD) patients made headlines this year when they went missing, forcing their worried family members to seek help from police and the public.
In March, Lee Kong Hon, 71, from Kelana Jaya, was nowhere to be found after visiting Kuala Lumpur Hospital (HKL) with family members.
Three months later, another AD patient, Yacob Carlos Abdullah, 68, from Shah Alam, was reported missing after being spotted at a bus stop in Section 13, near a hypermarket.
Data from the United Nations on the prevalence of AD over a projected population of more than 30 million Malaysians in 2030 , indicates that an estimated 261,000 or more are expected to have AD.
From this figure, more than 60 per cent of AD patients wander off on their own.
If they are not found within 24 hours, up to half of them may be involved in life-threatening situations.
According to Alzheimer’s Disease Foundation Malaysia (ADFM), AD occurs among those 65 or older. Above this age, a person’s risk of developing AD doubles approximately every five years. It can occur in younger people.
As the number of people aged 65 and above will exceed 10 per cent of the population by 2020, more Malaysians are increasingly vulnerable to the disease.
Technological advancements developed at National Space Agency (Angkasa) hope to allay these fears and ensure AD patients are getting the care they need.
Angkasa’s Tracking, Tracing and Trigger System (ATTracT) Alzheimer Module is a prototype system developed to determine the location of a person with AD at all times.
Funded by the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry’s (MOSTI’s) Social Innovation Programme, the project aims to benefit the AD community at the grassroots level by using space technology and global positioning system (GPS) technology.
Monitoring the movement and improving the safety of people with AD were what catalysed ATTracT, said Angkasa research officer, Ooi Wei Han.
It aims to provide caregivers with an alternative method of monitoring AD patients, indoors and outdoors.
It seeks to improve the safety of people living with AD by reducing the risk of them getting lost and hurt in the process.
“The movements of senior citizens with AD will be monitored via ATTracT by a wristwatch enabled with satellite technology, SOS and virtual boundary control.
“The system also integrates
Wi-Fi network capability to complement GPS, which will be useful when the GPS signal is weak or unavailable in an indoor environment,” Ooi added.
The watch is to be worn by AD patients. The guardian or caregiver can track and monitor patients in real-time via smart devices.
The device will transmit the location of AD patients to caregivers every two to four minutes. Like smartphone devices, the device needs to be charged every one to two days.
The tracking system supports only Android mobile phones and works in all areas under telco coverage.
An alert will be sent to the guardian’s smart devices (up to four devices), which store the history of the AD patient’s movements in case he crosses the virtual boundary during monitoring.
Beside the mobile device, a real-time monitoring system is set up in caregiver centres to monitor all users’ movements under their supervision.
The information and movements will be stored in a dedicated database server at Angkasa headquarters in Banting, Selangor.
“The ATTracT system is in the pilot trial stage and will be tested over three months.
“Angkasa is collaborating with ADFM for this purpose. If it is a success, the device will be made available to caregivers in Malaysia at between RM200 and RM300.
“Angkasa will most likely appoint a third party to distribute the system here,” Ooi added
AD patient Carlo Pangrazio, who is participating in the pilot trial, said the ATTracT device enabled him to be independent.
His wife, Mabel Gong, said the technology allowed her to keep track of Pangrazio’s whereabouts in real-time while she was at work.
“I like the function where I can set a virtual boundary. If he steps-out of the boundary, I get an alert on my phone. Now, with this device, he knows if he gets lost, he should stay where he is and wait for someone to come get him.”
However, she hoped the device could be waterproof and did not require to be charged daily.
Another caregiver, Zalina Arshad, decided to participate in the ATTracT trial even though her father, an AD patient, lives in Kedah with her mother, his principal caregiver.
“My dad is going through a phase where he likes to get into his car and drive off without telling anyone. This has been happening frequently, so the device is handy to keep track of his movements.”
The alerts are being sent to Zalina’s phone as her mother is unable to process the information.
Nevertheless, Zalina can monitor her father’s movements from Kuala Lumpur and inform her mother accordingly.
“Like most older people, my mother is not tech-savvy, so she finds the technology a little confusing.
“Perhaps the ATTracT system could be more user-friendly, especially to older caregivers.”
Zalina said her mother also worried that her father would not want to put the device on because it looked “fancy”.
“My father likes to hide things that he thinks are valuable. Maybe Angkasa could develop a model that looks more functional as an option for users.”
Families or caregivers of AD patients who would like to participate in the free ATTracT pilot trial are required to email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information