05/11/2015 04:54 EDT | Updated 05/11/2016 05:59 EDT

B.C. supports Alzheimer's technology to keep people home and safe

VICTORIA - A friendly, familiar face is sometimes all that is needed to prevent an Alzheimer's tragedy.

Technology that seeks to keep Alzheimers' patients safe within their homes is part of a University of Victoria program that helps people with disabilities improve their quality of life.

Health Minister Terry Lake said the so-called wandering deterrent system is one of the innovations being fine tuned as part of the university's CanAssist program, which develops technologies and programs to meet needs not addressed by existing services.

The wandering deterrent system, which should be widely available for British Columbia patients within a year, is able to prevent people from leaving their homes through a series of visual notices posted on screens throughout their home.

"To see your daughter, son or caregiver on a screen reminds you about something when you may be going out at the wrong time of day, I think, provides comfort and confidence to the person so they are more likely to follow instructions," Lake said Monday. "It's unique. It's kind of heart warming to see this."

Screens in the home remind people of the current time using a 24-hour clock and an image of the sun or moon. They also show messages or videos, usually recorded by family members, explaining that it's not safe to be outside at a certain time of day or night.

Alzheimer's Society of B.C. spokesman Jim Mann said the wandering deterrent system is easy to install and operate and may prevent people with Alzheimer's from leaving their homes and becoming lost.

"It is non intrusive," Mann said. "It is right at the door, so if a person does happen to get up in the night ... the message is right there. It could be personal, saying, 'Please don't leave.'"

CanAssist has also helped develop a phone-in monitoring system that allows caregivers and loved ones to check on people with dementia through an attachment to a telephone in a home. It also provides a summary of recent activities at the home, including calls and movements.

The Health Ministry announced $3 million in funding for CanAssist, which the university says is the only program in North America pioneering innovations to help people with disabilities improve their lives.