Plans To Tag The Elderly ‘Smack Of Big Brother’

Plans to tag old people so they can be tracked by satellite received a mixed reaction today. Science Minister Malcolm Wicks said technology could be used to help families keep tabs on frail or elderly relatives. He said tags, similar to those used to monitor criminals, could help give more freedom to those suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

{mosimage}Kate Jopling, of Help the Aged, said that at first glance the proposal smacked of “Big Brother”. But she said the potential of new technology to help vulnerable older people should not be dismissed.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, warned of “gimmicks” which are designed to replace expensive care. She said: “A debate about better care for the elderly is a good thing but technical gimmicks often provide cheap and quick fixes rather than dignified and possibly expensive care.”

Mr Wicks said the idea of using satellite monitoring to benefit society should be discussed. He said: “We’ve got an ageing population with many people frail and many suffering from dementia, including Alzheimer’s. 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?”

Earlier, Mr Wicks told a Commons committee that with an increasingly frail and elderly population, many families were worried about vulnerable relatives.

Ms Jopling added: “Help the Aged wants to see more older people with dementia enabled to live as independently as possible in the community, and this might be a way of achieving this whilst minimising some of the risks.

“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.”

There are about 700,000 people in the UK with dementia, which mainly affects older people. A large proportion of those have Alzheimer’s disease. That figure is set to rise to more than one million in 20 years and to 1.7 million by 2050 – an increase of 154% over the next 45 years.

Dementia costs the country £17 billion per year – equivalent to £539 per second or £46.6 million per day.

In February, experts warned that the Government had no plans to deal with the problem and faced a crisis in medical and social care.