Like many adult children of aging parents, entrepreneur Greg Elofson was introduced to the challenges of dementia — for both the patient and caregiver — first hand when his father, who lives in another state, was diagnosed with vascular dementia.
“I immediately saw how big the issues were and recognized by the time caregivers see what they are in for, it’s almost too late,” said the Menlo Park resident.
A visit with his father revealed that he could carry on the activities of daily living pretty well; the lifelong patterns were entrenched, making his functionality on the high range. “But he loved to go for walks, and I became concerned about the possibility of him getting lost,” said Greg.
Gathering the team he’d led at his prior company, Tiny News, Greg started researching the issues with the idea of developing a kind of sophisticated tracking device. “We learned a lot, such as becoming lost wasn’t the main issue, but the mortality rate due to weather, traffic, and, to our surprise, drowning,” he said. “Gerontologist Nina Silverstein has done a lot of work on wandering and found there is cognitive preference for going down hill.
“So, once we started drilling down, it wasn’t being outside that was deadly but these other factors. It wasn’t enough to know where someone was. It was more important to know if someone was in trouble.”
Greg and his team also identified other challenges, such as the need for caregiver respite and how isolating caring for a dementia patient can be.
The upshot of their work is FindMe, a wearable device, which Greg describes as “like an EPIRB [emergency position-indicating radio beacon] but the size of a tournament domino, and specialized for Alzheimer’s.” Their eventual goal is to develop a new paradigm for dementia care that moves away from warehousing people and towards integrating individuals living with dementia back into the community.
Currently, Greg is talking with the Alzheimer’s Association about participating in their “Live Alone” project in San Mateo and San Francisco counties by providing FindMe devices. If agreement is reached, they’ll start in March.
You can get more details about FindMe and creating safe Alzheimer communities on the Alz Care website.
Photo by Irene Searles