The study forms part of the public sector innovation projects collectively known as "Trygge Spor og Samspill" (Safe tracking and interaction) – a joint initiative launched in 2011 being carried out by SINTEF together with a number of Norwegian municipalities. The initial project began with five municipalities and 50 dementia sufferers, and in 2015 it was expanded to include 18 municipalities.
People with dementia (or cognitive dysfunction) taking part in the study have experience in using the devices varying from three months to two years. A survey has been incorporated into the study involving device users, next of kin and personnel employed by all of the 18 municipalities as respondents. Interviews have also been conducted. All forms of data can provide useful background information as a basis for the planning and use of GPS technology as part of health care provision in Norway.
Previously, it has been difficult to substantiate the benefits of using GPS devices, and this is why the documentation of experience reported by municipalities is key to the work currently being carried out.
"We have seen many positive benefits," say Tone Øderud and Dag Ausen at SINTEF. "The study has confirmed that dementia sufferers can maintain their independence, enjoy their freedom and continue to pursue their outdoor activities in spite of the development of their illness", they say.
During the three years that SINTEF researchers have been gathering data from the municipalities, they have acted as project supervisors and have obtained a wealth of research-based insights. Not all the GPS users in the study have received a dementia diagnosis, but all are suffering from dementia-related problems with cognitive dysfunction.
"The assistance provided by a GPS device will not last in the long term. Nevertheless, its function is important to sufferers for as long as it works", says Dag Ausen. "So far during the study the average period of use has been between 10 and 11 months."
The study reveals that between 20 and 25% of sufferers who report benefits from using GPS also obtain a direct benefit from being able to live longer at home. If their functioning deteriorates to the extent that they are unable to live at home, they can nevertheless reside in an open ward in a nursing home.
The researchers emphasize that it is still important to establish regular routines. Most sufferers find it useful to have the GPS device by the door, and then hang it round their neck or put it in their pocket when they go out. Some have learned how to charge their devices, while others rely on next of kin or visiting nurses for supervision and assistance.