The last time Len Jenkins was found wandering the streets near his home in Portishead, a worried stranger made sure he was returned safely.
But Len’s son, Keith, is constantly worried about his 94-year-old father.
Lens dementia means he can not always remember where he is. His caregivers have put up signs on his front door telling him not to go out alone, yet he forgets occasionally.
Keith, 76, lives 16 miles away and is still working, so he is unable to see him constantly.
But he now has a new way of keeping an eye on his father. Len was selected by Avon and Somerset Police to receive one of 30 new GPS tracker devices distributed to people living with dementia.
They are given to people at greatest risk of disappearing. This means that both families and the police can log in to an app and track where they are.
The devices can be worn as a string or attached to clothing.
“I can relax a little more,” Keith says. “I can relax because I feel like everything is in place to help him as much as physically possible.”
Keith adds: “I could put him in a home where he wants to be 100% safe … or I could bring him home where he would be where he probably is not quite so safe.
“And so the systems we’ve introduced here, I think is the best compromise. He’s home, he’s happy, and in my conscience I’ve done everything I can to keep him safe.”
The project was the idea of Sergeant Stuart King, who saw that something needed to be done to help.
“Over the last 18 years of my police service, it’s been a regular occurrence, and in fact I’ve seen it more in recent years, where we’re getting more and more calls to people who have dementia being found by members. of the public, either lost or in a state of distress, “said Sergeant King.
“And there are certain incidents that I have also participated in that have taken hold of me. Some have ended up in tragic circumstances and others were people living with dementia who have traveled across cities to try to find childhood homes that are no longer there.
“So it was those kinds of incidents that made me look for a solution to this to better protect people.”
The units were funded by local companies Bristol Water and Wessex Water.
Stuart has already been contacted by police forces across the country eager to roll out a similar scheme.
There are currently around 900,000 people in the UK living with dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Society, but that number is expected to rise sharply to 1.6 million by 2040.
The charity’s policy manager, Gavin Terry, says that with the number increasing, there is a need for new ways to support people.
“Innovative technology, like this initiative, is really important in helping to do that,” he says.
“It’s also a really good example of how what’s found in everyday technology can be used for good use in terms of helping keep people safe, helping their loved ones, supporting and caring for them, improving their well-being and in many cases help extend their independence.
“There are some ethical considerations. And there should always be some really clear guidelines on how this kind of technology is used, especially for people who lack the capacity to make decisions for themselves.”