How To Find the Best Tracker For an Older Loved One

Nate Birt

Written by Nate Birt on Wed May 10 2023.

Mom and adult daughter.

If you care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia, you might have noticed they sometimes wander off. This is a common experience for many families, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. In fact, as many as 60% of patients with dementia wander at least once when their surroundings suddenly become unfamiliar. 

To help keep your loved one safe and protected, you might explore trackers for the elderly. A high-quality tracking device can help keep your loved one safe by knowing their exact locations if they wander off. It can also give you peace of mind knowing you have greater control and visibility as a caregiver. 

This article addresses key questions caregivers commonly ask while shopping for trackers for an older loved one. We’ll also help you navigate conversations about privacy and protection and will share tracker recommendations. 

What Are Trackers?

Trackers are small devices that show you the location of the person wearing them at any given time. Some examples of trackers for the elderly include Alerta, Angel Sense, Bay Alarm Medical, iTraq, Jiobit, Life Alert, Lok8U, Medical Alert, Medical Guardian, PocketFinder, SmartSole, Spot, Spytec GPS, and Trackimo. 

In addition to physical trackers, there are also family apps that let you track one another. However, these typically require that the person being tracked carry their phone with them instead of having a standalone tracker device. 

What’s the Difference Between Trackers and Medical Alert Systems?

There are some important differences between trackers and medical alert systems, primarily the focus of each device. Distinctions include:

  • Device purpose: Most medical alert systems are designed to help your loved one notify you, emergency medical workers, or both in the event of a health need. The device might alert you if your loved one has fallen or is experiencing an irregular heartbeat. 

On the other hand, trackers follow your loved one’s movement from one location to another so that you always know where they are. You can add medical information to them, but that isn’t the focus of the device.

  • Activation triggers: A medical alert system might require your loved one to press a button. It might also only activate if your loved one experiences a fall. In comparison, a tracker typically lets you see the wearer’s location at any time. 

  • Available options: Trackers and medical alert systems are usually made by different manufacturers. Some companies make different trackers for different purposes. You can do your research to include all kinds of devices that can help you protect your loved ones.

How do Trackers Work? 

Most tracker devices for older adults use some combination of Bluetooth, cell signal, GPS, and Wi-Fi to help you pinpoint your loved one’s location. Since technology has become smaller, placing a tracker on your loved one is now easier. These devices are often worn as a necklace or a wristband or kept in a pocket or bag they typically carry. 

To see where your loved one is, open the app associated with the tracker, and their location will show up as a dot on a map. Although each company’s product offering will vary — in terms of the actual tracker and the software used to view their location — the basics will remain about the same. 

There is usually an initial fee, for example, to buy the tracker and the technology that goes with it. Then, you might pay a monthly or annual subscription fee to keep the device working, monitor your loved one’s whereabouts, and even add other loved ones who provide caretaking support. 

What Factors Should I Evaluate When Looking For Trackers?

Remember that third-party organizations such as Consumer Reports can help you evaluate your options while avoiding the bias you might find in ads around the internet. Factors to remember when shopping for trackers for an older loved one include:

  • Features: Study the options each device offers and determine what your loved one needs to stay safe. Some devices are best used indoors, while others are effective in any weather. Some offer a single account, and others provide access to multiple family members. Consider your loved one’s daily living habits and what might help you keep an eye on them in the most discreet and caring way.

  • Cost: Tracking devices are available at many price points. Often, more expensive devices have newer technology, more features, or enable multiple users. You might consider starting with a small and simple device at a lower price point, experimenting to see if it works well for your loved one, and later upgrading if you need specific features.

  • Portability: This is a fancy term for “How easy is it for my loved one to carry around?” Many tracker devices can be worn, like clothing or jewelry. Others can be placed in a pocket, attached to the skin like a bandage, or dropped into a backpack. Keep in mind that a loved one with dementia might forget to put on a tracker or misplace it. Consider use cases to ensure it stays with your loved one at all times so you don’t have to worry about them wandering off. 

How Can I Get My Loved One to Wear a Tracker? 

Your loved one might not be totally on board with wearing a tracker. For some, it can feel like an invasion of privacy. It can be helpful to remind your loved one that many families voluntarily use apps on their phones to keep tabs on one another. This is both practical and can add a layer of safety. For example, it can let your loved ones know your whereabouts and keep them informed if you call and ask for help. 

You can also work with your loved one to set rules for wearing the tracker and work as a team. For example, as a caregiver, you might volunteer to keep the tracker on its charger when your loved one is at home with you. You could also set guidelines and a routine to make sure your loved one wears their tracker when out of the house, at appointments, or running errands with you.

Can I Benefit From a Tracker if My Loved One Isn’t Older? 

A loved one can benefit from a tracker if the conditions are right and you have had an honest conversation. This could include children or a loved one with a disability. Although many GPS trackers and other tracking devices are made with older people in mind, trackers can help many families whose needs will vary.

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Nate Birt
Nate Birt

Nate Birt is a healthcare writer with a journalism degree from University of Missouri. He lives with his wife and their four children on a small farm in Missouri.