An Uneasy Use for Apple’s AirTags: Monitoring a Cherished One With Dementia

Michelle Hirschboeck was searching for a approach to preserve observe of her husband, Paul, who has dementia. She settled on one thing not supposed for folks: AirTags.

Caregivers have turned to


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tiny, $29 monitoring units after discovering different strategies of monitoring folks with dementia aren’t a match, or are too costly. Many monitoring apps require folks to have their telephones with them. Folks with dementia would possibly neglect them after they depart the home, say caregivers. They do have a tendency to recollect keys and wallets, nonetheless, to which the AirTags had been designed to connect.

Public-health officers say monitoring folks with dementia is ethically murky, as a result of some people don’t wish to be tracked—although the folks caring for them are sometimes in a bind. And even the folks utilizing AirTags discover they lack the precision to be helpful in dire conditions. Serving to folks keep secure of their properties as they age is inserting a rising pressure on households who are sometimes the caregivers of family members with dementia. An estimated 6.5 million Individuals ages 65 and older have Alzheimer’s dementia, a quantity that’s anticipated to succeed in 12.7 million by 2050, based on the Alzheimer’s Affiliation

Ms. Hirschboeck, a graduate assistant on the College of Minnesota, says a social employee advised GPS shoe insoles designed for folks with dementia to maintain tabs on her husband’s location. The insoles can value greater than $300 a pair, on prime of a month-to-month service plan. Mr. Hirschboeck, 59, doesn’t all the time put on the identical footwear, says his spouse. “He all the time places his keys and pockets in his pocket when he goes out,” she provides.

Michelle Hirschboeck not has to drive across the neighborhood searching for her husband, Paul. Now she checks the Discover My app on her iPhone.


Caroline Yang for The Wall Road Journal

Two months in the past, she purchased an AirTag and a keychain. She informed her husband the machine may also help him discover his keys if he loses them—and assist her find him if he will get misplaced on a stroll. “How a lot he understands, I’m undecided,” she says.

Not too long ago, when she was within the basement doing laundry, she went upstairs to find he had left. She couldn’t see him from the home, and didn’t know which manner he had gone. Earlier than the AirTag, she would have pushed round searching for him, she says. Now, her cellphone’s Discover My app offers a location.

“Although it was not precisely a real-time location,” she says, “I knew which manner he had gone, and that he had not been far-off a couple of minutes in the past.”

Quickly she noticed him coming across the nook.

AirTags have been used to stalk folks with out their data, by covertly planting them of their automobiles or belongings. Apple says AirTags aren’t for monitoring folks, and the corporate condemns malicious use. It rolled out software program updates so folks can extra simply be taught if another person’s AirTags are following them.

False Sense of Safety?

“Simply because somebody has been identified with dementia doesn’t imply they will’t nonetheless make selections for themselves,” says Joseph Gaugler, a professor of long-term care and getting old on the College of Minnesota’s Faculty of Public Well being. “They’ll and ought to be requested if it’s OK with them.”

He understands the enchantment of AirTags and related merchandise for caregivers, however says the beloved one’s wandering is what ought to be addressed. “It’s extra constructive to grasp what results in the wandering and to attempt to provide you with methods to stop it,” he says.

The Alzheimer’s Affiliation has a listing of the way to cut back the dangers of wandering. If you realize the time of day somebody sometimes wanders, as an example, you may plan distracting actions round then. The group additionally provides suggestions for safeguarding folks’s properties to stop wandering.

Nonetheless, many households wish to protect their family members’ independence—together with letting them take unattended walks.

Paul Hirschboeck all the time grabs his keys when he leaves the home, so his spouse, Michelle, tracks him with the connected AirTag. She needs to protect his independence, which incorporates permitting him to go on walks. Caroline Yang for The Wall Road Journal

Michael Ellenbogen, 64, was identified with early-onset Alzheimer’s in 2008 and says he has been capable of handle his dementia for thus lengthy by taking Alzheimer’s remedy and dietary supplements. Nonetheless, the previous financial institution IT supervisor from Chesapeake Metropolis, Md., says he struggles with expertise. “I even have issues utilizing my very own cellphone anymore to search out my manner dwelling, so I’ll name my spouse,” he provides.

He has reviewed quite a few monitoring apps and units, although not AirTags. He says that he doesn’t belief such units and that he wouldn’t use AirTags. Gadgets might be misplaced or forgotten, he says, and batteries can run out. (Apple says an AirTag’s battery is nice for greater than a 12 months.)

“These monitoring applied sciences give folks a false sense of safety,” says Mr. Ellenbogen.

Twenty Minutes Is a Lengthy Time

There are technical hurdles, too. AirTags don’t have GPS. As an alternative, they depend on the situation providers of close by iPhone, iPad, iPod Contact and Mac units in Apple’s encrypted, nameless Discover My community. Caregivers can then open their Discover My app to see the AirTag’s location on a map.

Steve Snyder of St. Paul, Minn., has run into issues finding his father, Ron, with an AirTag connected to his keychain. When the elder Mr. Snyder took his canine to the park lately and didn’t return on the anticipated time, his spouse requested Mr. Snyder to see the place he was.

Steve Snyder says the situation of the AirTag he makes use of to trace his father typically doesn’t replace in real-time, making it laborious to pinpoint his whereabouts.


Steve Snyder

Mr. Snyder checked the Discover My app, which mentioned the AirTag’s location was final up to date 20 minutes earlier than. “In 20 minutes, he might be 10 streets over and we wouldn’t be capable to discover him,” Mr. Snyder says.

When Mr. Snyder checked the app once more, it confirmed his father on the park. However then he heard the storage door open—his father was again. It took one other quarter-hour for the AirTag to point out he was dwelling.

Apple says that if an AirTag can’t attain a tool on the Discover My community, you solely see its final identified location with a timestamp.

Mr. Snyder says the AirTag isn’t excellent, nevertheless it’s essentially the most helpful choice for now.

He’d advised shopping for his father an Apple Watch, however says the 80-year-old has had the identical look ahead to 25 years and wouldn’t put on a brand new one. Mr. Snyder has additionally tried to get his father to make use of a smartphone.

“He simply needs a flip cellphone—he says he doesn’t want all the opposite stuff on a smartphone,” Mr. Snyder says. “The great thing about the AirTag is that he gained’t depart dwelling with out his keys.”


What methods do you suppose work greatest for safeguarding family members with dementia whereas preserving their independence? Be part of the dialog beneath.

Mr. Snyder says his father has acknowledged that he doesn’t need anybody monitoring him, however he didn’t protest after they confirmed him the AirTag on his keychain. One time, the AirTag popped off and his dad mentioned it wanted to be put again earlier than he might depart dwelling.

Nonetheless, the youthful Mr. Snyder isn’t positive how lengthy the AirTag shall be an choice. “Because the illness progresses, we must take a look at what we have to do to make sure his security,” he says. “I’m undecided the AirTag is the suitable mechanism to try this.”

For extra Household & Tech columns, recommendation and solutions to your most urgent family-related expertise questions, join my weekly e-newsletter.

Write to Julie Jargon at

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