A new product that is designed to keep track of people with Alzheimer's and other dementias may mean better safety for patients and less worry for caregivers. The Columba is a permanently worn bracelet that combines a GPS positioning system, a hands-free phone, and geo-fencing capabilities to monitor the patient's movements. Considering that more than 60% of people with dementia will wander off at some point in their disease, the people at Sillery, Que.-based Medical Intelligence Technologies Inc. (TSXV: MIZ) see big potential for the Columba. Louis Massicotte, the founding president of Medical Intelligence, came up with the bracelet after his mother, who suffers from Alzheimer's, began to wander.
The bracelet, which is waterproof and unlocks with a special key, automatically detects when the wearer leaves a certain zone, and immediately alerts a medical-assistance call centre. The zone encompasses whatever area the caregivers predetermine–a home, a neighbourhood, even an entire city. Once alerted, the centre contacts the caregiver. If it is not a case of wandering–leaving the zone for a doctor's appointment, for example–then nothing else needs to happen. But if the person has wandered, he or she can be reached with the hands-free phone, and the call-centre can geo-position the wearer to co-ordinate assistance. The Columba also has a panic button and a battery life of up to 10 days. “We want to keep [patients] in their regular routines,” says CEO Dr. Stéphane Bergeron.
Medical Intelligence, founded in 2001, is currently mass-producing the Columba to be distributed in France from January 2006. The company chose France because Columba's software is 100% compatible with European cellphone operators, and the population density is much greater than in Canada. But the number of people with the disease in Canada is growing. According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, more than 420,000 people in Canada suffer from Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. By the year 2031, they expect that number to grow to more than 750,000. Medical Intelligence has turned its focus to North American markets and is currently negotiating with major telcos and pharmaceutical retailers. Dr. Bergeron expects the Columba to hit Canadian shelves mid-2006, with a price tag of just under $500 and a monthly subscription fee of between $30 and $40.
With other products in the works, such as a portable cardiac alarm system that also uses geo-positioning and audio communication, Medical Intelligence plans to be the leader in the personal tele-security industry. “I think it's the next big thing, after seeing what RIM has done over the last few years for business people. The same thing will be done for people suffering with various health diseases,” says Dr. Bergeron. “There are tremendous possibilities.”