Underwear tracking device for dementia patient?
May 12, 2021 2:33 PM   Subscribe

I'm caring for a dementia patient friend. For free. He sometimes escapes. He won't take his IPhone because he thinks I track him with it. (I don't, because most times the phone is with the person who stole it from him, or lost). Sometimes he goes out in his underwear, t-shirt and socks. I bought Hanes shorts-looking underwear so he isn't walking out in obvious underpants. I need a tracking device I can sew into his underwear waistband. It needs to be unnoticeable to him. It would help if I could afford ten of these to sew in each pair. Help?
posted by KayQuestions to Shopping (21 answers total)
posted by Thorzdad at 2:36 PM on May 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Airtags have some privacy features specifically to make it harder to track people with them. These may not apply to you but I'd review them carefully because this specific use case is one that Apple is putting a lot of effort into making non-viable.
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:41 PM on May 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

Any device will be big enough to notice on underwear. Kind of the nature of the beast
posted by Dr. Twist at 2:43 PM on May 12, 2021 [4 favorites]

I actually did a bunch of research recently into tracking devices! And sadly, the quarter-sized real-time tracker of my dreams does not exist...

To actually TRACK-track someone, Bluetooth things like AirTag or Tile are just not that useful. They can tell you if they come near a thing that can identify them, but they are not actually able to tell you a current location if the person doesn’t happen to be in range of the devices that can ping them. You need a GPS tracker - which means not only the device, but also a monthly plan. Most of the ones I found were at least $100 with plans starting at $20/month. And none of them are near as small as you would need for this.

They make a huge variety of wearable ones for seniors, but generally they’re watches or necklaces or insoles. You might be able to take one of the necklace ones and do this with it, but it would probably be pretty obvious. And expensive.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:47 PM on May 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

A few years ago, the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health put together a report on various aspects of tracking devices for people with dementia. It's from 2016, so tech-wise may be a bit dated, and also somewhat specific to Canada, but does run through some of the technology available and various limitations (e.g., available devices with enough range to be helpful are larger, around the size of a wristwatch).
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:55 PM on May 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

Hopefully they don’t go outside barefoot but as a dementia patient that’s unfortunately a possibility. I would try searching for something you could place in their shoes or slippers. That way you wouldn’t have to worry about the tracker getting damaged when the underwear is washed and it would also be easier to hide.

(To be honest it sounds like you may need help with this patient. I would also suggest that door locks, door alarms, and cameras would be less of a legal grey area.)
posted by mundo at 3:27 PM on May 12, 2021 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Samsung makes a reasonably small GPS tracker with built in cell tower connectivity - SmartThings Tracker. They come with a year of service prepaid and you can often find them on eBay for a discount.

Overall it's 1.7" x 1.7" x 0.5", which I think is going to be as good as it gets in this department.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 3:29 PM on May 12, 2021

I apologize, I read the question again and it seems like they go outside with only “underwear, t-shirt and socks.” I think the issue of damage caused by washing and drying still remains though.
posted by mundo at 3:52 PM on May 12, 2021

This door sensor might work better than an underwear tag. Or maybe you could place this on him, but he'd probably notice it.

It sounds like you may not be in the same location as him - is he living alone? If he won't take his phone, will he wear a watch?
posted by hydra77 at 4:41 PM on May 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Unfortunately, a global tracker that's small enough to not notice doesn't exist yet.

You are better off with door sensors that detect unauthorized or unexpected openings and closings, as well as cameras at each door, both inside and outside, PLUS something similar to retail sensor tags and install sensors at the exits. Those tags can be small enough and need no power to be sewn into clothing. THEN you should get an alarm if the patient made it past the door, and the outside camera would know which way he went.
posted by kschang at 6:11 PM on May 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

My first thought was pet trackers, though I'm sure they're too big/expensive. Wireless Tags may be too big/pricey as well, but they have an "out of range" function that you can connect to IFTTT.
posted by 10ch at 8:15 PM on May 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Note that IFTTT can have a lag of 15 minutes+. Don't use it for anything you need to be notified of instantly.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:18 PM on May 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Could your replace all their shirts with t-shirts with a custom logo "I am a lost dementia patient, please call XXX-XXX-XXXX if you see me outside?"

The smallest trackers are for pets, and only have a range of a few hundred yards. But I think they are still too big to sew into something, and the person might mistake them for something harmful.
posted by nickggully at 8:18 PM on May 12, 2021

Best answer: I will preface this by saying that this is a very difficult situation and you must be a truly compassionate and loving friend to take on this challenge. Please make sure you are looking after yourself.

So I Am Not Your Consultant, but my day job involves finding, testing, and designing solutions for this kind of thing. I have tested nearly every consumer-level GPS product for the specific use-case of folks with dementia. I have also tested and been involved with the design of many solutions based on Bluetooth, ZigBee, and RFID technologies.

I do not believe that any of these are viable solutions for you based on what you have told us. They are either going to be too expensive, too labor-intensive or just not effective for this use case due to range or size issues. Further, if your friend is already adversarial about tracking then anything truly effective is going to be noticed by them and avoided. People with dementia can be very stubborn, patient, and wily. I know this probably isn't what you want to hear, but I want to try and save you the time, energy, and expense of pursuing this when you will likely be unsatisfied with the end result.

My suggestion to you would be to investigate more passive options, such as silent door alarms, motion sensors, or even cameras that notify of activity. Your goal should be to catch your friend before they are able to leave the property. You will get much better results by being alerted that your friend is on their way out and catching them before they get out of sight. You also shouldn't underestimate the effectiveness of soft blockers, anything that might distract or slow down your friend when they are heading out.

I also feel like it would also be remiss of me not to mention that if your friend is already suspicious of you monitoring them and is attempting to "escape" whilst not taking care of basic needs, like wearing clothes while outdoors, that home care without professional assistance may soon become untenable.
posted by forbiddencabinet at 11:09 PM on May 12, 2021 [36 favorites]

Best answer: Might be better to try an prevent the escapes. Either have an alarm system that announces when a door or window is opened or have a deadbolt installed that requires a key on both sides of the door.
posted by tman99 at 9:25 AM on May 13, 2021

Best answer: The Apple watch with cellular is pretty great if he will wear it. Tracks falls, low and high pulse, plus pulse ox if you get the nicer one.

But, realistically, are you able to provide adequate care to this person? Are they put unnecessarily at risk by being able to wander? Memory care facilities have 24-hour staffing and loud alarms for very good reasons. Sometimes the kinder thing is to institutionalize someone while they still have some ability to form new memories. I have had two family members in this situation and it can be very difficult to tell when they can be cared for at home. It's tempting to feel like you can figure out strategies to make it work, and sometimes that's absolutely the right thing to do. But wandering at night is a very common behavior.
posted by wnissen at 9:40 AM on May 13, 2021

have a deadbolt installed that requires a key on both sides of the door
Unfortunately, this is very dangerous (in case of fire) and therefore illegal in many areas.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 9:40 AM on May 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I’m really struck by most of the answers above.

You do not have a problem for which the answer is a tracking device sewn in someone’s underwear.

Even if such a device existed, your next problem would be that your friend would discover it, perhaps not always but often enough, and you’d be trying to track a person who left home without their underwear, too.

This person needs 24 hour supervision, either in their home, or in an institutional setting. You are neither expected nor able to provide that for free. You may be able to gather some friends and family of this person to coordinate more care, but more likely you need to be reaching out to social services in your area.

Best of luck.
posted by thenormshow at 4:42 PM on May 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Something that a relative found helpful when their partner with dementia started wandering was to make sure that some neighbours knew what was going on. This was particularly helpful because they would let the relative know if they saw the partner wandering, some would also have conversations with the partner and distract them into thinking about returning home.
posted by plonkee at 11:05 AM on May 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: yes, I need help with this patient. I'm seeking a temporary tracking solution until I can access help, which is apparently near impossible
posted by KayQuestions at 8:46 PM on May 16, 2021

Then use technology to help, but know its limitations. You need basically a silent alarm that notifies you when someone walks past a certain corridor, or opens a door (I presume your patient won't climb out a window, else you need window sensors too).

Found a cheaper option on Amazon: $15 per sensor, but it's door / window sensor ONLY. Notifies you immediately via home wifi network, no hub needed.


Cheapest is probably Wyze Home Kit, about $109 on Amazon, comes with 3 smart bulbs, 2 smart plugs, 2 door sensors, a motion sensor, a camera, and a hub. You just need the sensors, the hub, and the camera. Set them up to cover the primary and secondary entrance, camera to watch the front, motion sensor for the back. All set to notify you on the phone.

There was a cheaper kit called Wyze Sense Kit, but that's no longer available officially, but still listed somewhere for sale.

posted by kschang at 10:23 PM on May 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

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