GPS Trackers & the Right to Roam

Plymouth Dementia Conference

4 March 2016


Not everyone with a dementia (or other cognitive impairment) is physically unwell.  Dementia is a progressive condition and in the early stages, people still have a great deal of ability to make decisions about their lives.  So what about those people who want to continue to live active outdoor lives, but are at risk of getting lost – GPS trackers!


This blog relates to the law in England, but talks about a community is Scotland, where the domestic law is different.


Ann Pascoe is a founding member of Dementia Friendly Communities, a community interest company and my co-presenter at the Dementia Conference.  She and her husband Andrew, who lives with dementia, live in the remote highlands of Scotland, where the nearest city is 70 miles away.  Andrew is a photographer and likes to go off and take photos, which has stressed Ann and Andrew became too anxious to go out for fear of getting lost, overall not a nice situation for either of them.  They now have a new routine, the GPS tracker is charged at night and in the morning Andrew will put it on.  He knows that he can go out and if he gets lost can press the “panic button” and someone will help him via his GPS tracker as part of the service associated with it.  As a result of Andrew being safe from the risk of getting lost, Ann no longer stresses about him going out.  That is not to say that Andrew doesn’t go the “wrong way” from time to time, but if he does, either he can ask for help to get back or Ann can ask the service where he is if he were late back.  I was told that he once caught the bus in the wrong direction and the return bus would bring him back 1 hour later than expected.  Without the GPS tracker locating him, for that hour she would have been terribly worried, but as she knew his revised return time, she got on with other things and didn’t worry.


So who decides if Andrew wears the GPS tracker?  If Andrew were in England, he can decide, as long as he has capacity, if he doesn’t, then the carer can make a decision in his best interests and if there is a dispute, then the Court of Protection can make a decision in his best interests.


Within Europe, every citizen is subject to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which includes people with a dementia.


There was a 4 month trial of a GPS tracker in Helmsdale, the service with this GPS tracker can locate someone and know how they are travelling in under a minute.


The results of the trial in Scotland showed that people living with dementia relished their freedom and their carers stopped worrying about them getting lost.  But semantics are important, people with dementia don’t want to be “tagged”, they want the freedom to roam!


So how did the trial go in Dartmoor?  We ran 2 practise searches and each time within about 20 minutes, the person was found, which is far less than the hours it can take, which would make a huge difference to the safety of that person.


So under the ECHR the most important Right is the Right to life, but this is balanced against the Right to Liberty, Right not to be subjected to degrading treatment and the Right of assembly and association.  Only when there is a risk to life, should the other Rights be overridden.


So when should someone wearing a GPS tracker be checked? When their safety is a risk and not to check up on them.  A person with dementia is still a person and entitled to their human rights.  Under the Mental Capacity, one of the key principles is that they are entitled to make an unwise decision, because we all do from time to time!!


The Freedom to Roam is about empowering people with dementia to live full lives, with freedom to make choices, without being surveiled.