Sociology Of Health And Illness

April 22, 2011

Liberating the wanderers: using technology to unlock doors for those living with dementia
Johanna M. Wigg
This paper focuses on surveillance technologies applied to wandering elders in dementia care facilities in the United States. Liberating the wanderersDrawing on data collected in two long-term care settings, I examine how different forms of technology (e.g. locked doors and motion detectors) are used to monitor wanderers in the context of managing risk. In contrast to the locked facility that defined wandering as pathology, the care facility that defined wandering as purposeful and therapeutic improved wanderers’ sense of wellbeing and agency. The comparison of the two environments challenges the medicalisation of wandering and suggests a need to redefine approaches to safe wandering that incorporate technologies that monitor but do not confine residents. I argue that surveillance technologies such as locked doors dehumanise and frighten individuals by halting their ability to exit. In contrast, surveillance technologies such as motion detectors may offer increased quality of life and health benefits by allowing individuals to wander safely in the company of a care provider. Efforts to allow individuals to wander safely challenge both the medicalisation of this behaviour as well as the tendency to emphasise its riskiness.

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