Researchers in Alberta are trying to determine whether GPS technology can help people with early stage dementia stay safe and live independently longer.

The Locator Device Project is a six-month trial being conducted out of the University of Alberta.

With partial funding from the provincial government, researchers are testing out GPS technology to locate wandering or lost people who have cognitive impairments.

Tim Warman joined the study after his wife Allison, who suffers from early stage dementia, had a scare.

“I was going to the library or something … and I got totally turned around and I really didn’t know where I was,” Allison said in an interview with CTV News. “And that wasn’t fun.”

Allison, 53, is now able to walk more than a kilometre each day on her own, thanks to a GPS tracker that she wears when she’s out and about.

“This is giving both her the freedom to do what she loves … to go where she wants, and gives us peace of mind, “Tim said.

When Allison goes beyond range, Tim receives an alert in the form of a text message.

“It tells me what direction she’s going and what speed,” he said. “Then it does a map of the neighbourhood with a pinpoint exactly where she is.”

Each year, dozens of patients across Canada suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia go missing. For some, it can lead to death if they’re not located soon enough.

In an effort to prevent such tragedies, some dementia sufferers are institutionalized.

Trial researchers are hoping the GPS technology will help keep the growing number of dementia patients safe in their own homes, and thus prolong independent living.

Some of the devices being tested include a watch with two-way communication and a shoe insole with GPS that will give a patient’s exact location.

Researcher Lili Liu says three out of five dementia sufferers will experience some form of wandering.

“We need to allow them the freedom to walk … but to do it with as little risk as possible,” Liu told CTV News.

Of the 40 families in the study so far, three-quarters say the technology works.

Tim said it’s been beneficial to both him and Allison.

“Even though I’m at work, I am actually with her,” Tim said. “And it gives her a lot of confidence and comfort.”

With a report by CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip