App Helps to Find Dementia Wanderers

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Dementia’s Secret Angel

App Helps to Find Dementia Wanderers

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Prof. Gary Chan with his Dementia’s Secret Angel app and Bluetooth tag in its portable card format.
Prof. Gary Chan with his Dementia’s Secret Angel app and Bluetooth tag in its portable card format. [Download Photo]

In a socially impactful development, Prof. Gary CHAN, Computer Science and Engineering, and his research team have devised a novel mobile app that is helping to find missing dementia patients in Hong Kong through crowdsourcing and Bluetooth positioning technology.

Prof. Chan, who was responsible for developing the original StayHomeSafe geo-fencing technology for COVID-19 home quarantine enforcement in the city in 2020, created and launched the Dementia’s Secret Angel app, together with a low-cost iBeacon tag carried by people with dementia, through the Jockey Club Caring Communities for Dementia Campaign (JC CCDC) later the same year.

The School of Engineering technology assists family members and caregivers to efficiently search for dementia patients when they are lost. In a survey conducted for JC CCDC, co-organized by the Jockey Club Centre for Positive Ageing and St. James’ Settlement, around 30% of 576 caregivers/relatives said that their patients had got lost at some point and almost 85% of these respondents were worried it would happen again.

The app is currently serving more than 2,600 people with dementia and has been downloaded over 30,000 times so far. The Bluetooth tag is similar in size to a HK$5 coin and can last for more than one year without charging. For ease of use, it has also been designed as a card that can be fitted into a wallet and a handle that can be attached to a walking stick.

Members of the public and companies can also lend a hand to help to search for dementia wanderers. The public can download the power-conserving, privacy-preserving app to become secret “Angels”, and anonymously share location data through their smartphones when the Bluetooth signal of a wanderer is detected in their neighborhood. Corporations can install Bluetooth signal detectors called “Angel boxes”. The technology’s cloud-based program is then able to use the GPS signals from the Angels or Angel boxes to search for wanderers. In January 2022, KMB installed Angel boxes at five main bus terminals to extend the technology’s reach.

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This story was originally published in the SENG In Focus magazine (Spring 2022 edition, issue 34, P.7).