New MedicAlert Partnership Will Help Identify People With Dementia in a Natural Disaster

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MedicAlert is teaming up with CounterCrisis Tech to get better information about subscribers with dementia to first responders in crisis situations. 

There are few circumstances as high stress as a natural disaster and, unfortunately, Canada seems to be seeing an increase in wildfires, flooding and other extreme weather events. Having to evacuate your home in the face of impending danger is terrifying for anyone, but the chaos and confusion of a high-pressure situation can be especially fraught for people living with dementia. It’s a scenario that keeps families of those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia up at night.  

 The Alzheimer Society warns that people with dementia may react with aggressive or agitated behaviour, become withdrawn or wander away from safe environments when faced with negative or confusing situations. During a natural disaster, this means first responders may have trouble finding people with dementia if they leave their homes, identifying them if they are confused about their identity or whereabouts, convincing them to evacuate when necessary or unable to treat them if they cannot relay personal medical information. All of this can result in a worst-case scenario for families and caregivers trying to keep vulnerable loved ones safe.  

 A technological partnership 

MedicAlert’s Safe & Found program has been instrumental in keeping subscribers with dementia, who may naturally wander out of their environments, safe, but caregivers need added assurance in the face of an emergency. Ottawa-based tech company CounterCrisis Tech recently partnered with MedicAlert to address the complications that subscribers with medical needs like dementia may face when a natural disaster strikes.  

 CounterCrisis Tech builds technology platforms for public safety and emergency management organizations. Similar to 911 communications technology but much more advanced, CounterCrisis Tech’s IC4W Incident Command Software provides first responders with critical real-time data and insights in one centralized view as they work through the disaster. This includes information such as geospatial and environmental data, as well as plans and reports from other emergency managers involved in the crisis. Now it will add MedicAlert subscriber health data to the mix. 

 The IC4W software was commissioned by Public Safety Canada after an audit of Canada’s search-and-rescue capabilities. Air search and rescue is led by the military and water search and rescue is led by the Coast Guard, but there was a gap in ground search and rescue capabilities, which are made up of a patchwork of systems run mostly by volunteer organizations.  

 As part of its own digital transformation initiative and following Canada’s increasing number of natural disasters that have displaced thousands of people, MedicAlert was theorizing how it could get subscriber health data into the hands of ground search-and-rescue crews. That’s when they learned about the GSAR IC4W project and approached CounterCrisis Tech to discuss a potential partnership. CounterCrisis Tech’s CEO, Don Williams, immediately saw the opportunity to provide search-and-rescue personnel with enhanced information that would not only help if they were to find someone unconscious or in medical distress and in need of aid, but could also help with evacuation planning. This would ensure that the most vulnerable, who might be trapped by a fire or flood, could be located and brought to safety earlier. 

 “The first responders will have handheld devices out in the field in the midst of an emergency incident,” says Williams. “In the case of a natural disaster evacuation, the central incident command lead will have secure access to the MedicAlert database to be able to identify if there are any MedicAlert subscribers within a specific quadrant and can push that data to the field. If there are subscribers, the first responder will be able to know who they are, where they live and any contact information in case they need to reach out to the person to let them know they are on their way.”  

 They will also know if that person has health conditions. For example, a person could be on oxygen therapy for COPD but have been cut off from their supply because of the disaster. Responders can prepare for the evacuation by bringing an oxygen tank rather than having to wait for the person to get to a hospital to be treated.  

 Enhanced bracelet technology 

The integration of MedicAlert’s database will be a game-changer for first responders trying to immediately identify and meet the medical needs of people they come across in the aftermath of a natural disaster. However, CounterCrisis Tech and MedicAlert also want to address individuals with dementia who go missing during an emergency. The two organizations recently signed a memorandum of understanding to launch the development of a new MedicAlert bracelet equipped with GPS tracking capability.  

 This innovative device will help locate subscribers with dementia should they wander away from home, but it will also help first responders locate the person if they become displaced during evacuation procedures. The new bracelets are currently in development, but Williams expects to see them on the market within the next year or two.  

 The concept goes far beyond what is now available, including the idea that it can be built into something as small as a bracelet. One of the challenges of the current technology is that it is big and bulky. People tend not to wear these devices consistently and many abandon the technology altogether, particularly if they develop dementia, because there are often issues of tactile sensitivity. The beauty of building this technology into a MedicAlert ID is that MedicAlert knows there is a high compliance rate for their subscribers with dementia. People wear their MedicAlert IDs 24/7.  

 “In the event of an emergency or disaster, the GPS devices could be activated so they are very sensitive to people falling down,” Williams says. “They could even detect that there’s no movement with the individual when they should be moving. If the individual happens to be in a location where an earthquake or other natural disaster has taken place, the first responding organizations would be alerted to that.” 

 Expanding safety services 

With its comprehensive subscriber health information database, MedicAlert is particularly well equipped to partner with companies like CounterCrisis Tech, which can efficiently deliver medical information to authorities when it matters most. Getting the word out about who needs extra help as efficiently as possible is a relatively simple solution to a problem that will continue to grow as our population ages.  

 “These solutions are generally affordable to most,” Williams says. “If people are tracking their dogs, they can afford to keep track of their loved ones with serious medical conditions.” 

 If you have dementia or are caring for someone with dementia, MedicAlert’s Safe & Found program is designed to protect subscribers with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia from becoming lost after wandering from safe and familiar environments. More than 50,000 subscribers with dementia have been protected since the program was developed in 2012, and 91 percent of Safe and Found program members who have gone missing are returned home without harm.