Older people with dementia could be tagged, says minister

Older people with dementia could be tagged to help their families feel “safe and secure” about their whereabouts, science minister Malcolm Wicks has suggested.

Wicks told the House of Commons science and technology committee this week that although the government had to be careful not to take a “Big Brother” approach, satellite technology could have useful applications given an ageing population.

Wicks said: “How can we get the balance right so that these people have the freedom to live their lives, to go out in the community and go shopping?”

Helga Pile, UNISON national officer for social care argued that tagging would be a “waste of money” and called for investment in quality home care services instead.

“Human contact and warmth is vital for people suffering with Alzheimer’s in particular and a familiar face will do more to help the elderly than any tagging device,” she said. “Over two-thirds of councils only provide home care workers to people with critical needs. Since 1992 the number of households receiving homecare has fallen from 528,500 to 354,500. This leaves many elderly people without the support they need to live independently, with dignity and security in their own homes.”

Kate Jopling, senior policy manager at charity Help the Aged said: “Clearly at first glance these proposals may smack of the Big Brother state, but we shouldn’t dismiss the potential of new technologies to afford dignity and opportunity to vulnerable older people.  
“The key issue would of course be the involvement and consent of the individual, and their family and carers, to ensure that the technology means better care – not just care that’s cheaper or more convenient.”

Neil Hunt, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Electronic tagging can certainly help people with dementia achieve greater independence and dignity, and reduce the concern and worry that carers may have about the person they care for. But we need to strike a balance between the benefits to an individual and the ethics of electronic tagging.”

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