Norwegian dementia patients may wear GPS bracelets

Keeping closer tabs will provide more freedom, says health minister

When it comes to international rankings, Norway is always near the top of the positive list. Happiest country. Most prosperous. Best place to be a mother. If the Norwegian government goes ahead with an intriguing new plan, it will soon be famous for something else: keeping close tabs on dementia patients.

Lawmakers are debating the idea of using Global Positioning Systems on those who suffer from dementia—ensuring that if they wander away from home, they won’t be missing for long. The proposed legislation would allow health care workers to decide who warrants a GPS bracelet.

A recent study found that such tracking devices drastically increase the quality of life for patients and their families, reducing stress and allowing some semblance of independence. “The patient will have greater freedom with a GPS,” says Jonas Gahr Støre, Norway’s health minister. “The alternative is often locked doors.”

Details are still not clear. Would the electronic devices be attached to a centralized alarm system? Who would respond? How far should a dementia patient be allowed to wander? But Støre did stress the tracking bracelets would be “purely a supplement” to the current care regime, not an alternative.