One of the greatest fears for families of Alzheimer's patients is that an older relative might wander off, and then forgets how to get home again. Could a microchip implanted under the skin of an Alzheimer's patient be the answer to relocating that loved one? Planting a tiny computer device in a human being is an idea that has aroused a lot of strong feelings. VOA's Melinda Smith explains.
Ida Frankel is one of millions of Americans living with Alzheimer's disease. Her husband David describes one of her symptoms. "She was being very forgetful. She would, half the time, repeat the questions over and over again."
A microchip inserted in Ida Frankel's arm will not help her memory. But its manufacturer, Verichip Corporation, hopes it might help provide important medical information if she is lost or winds up in a hospital emergency room.
Scott Silverman is the company president. "When an Alzheimer's patient presents [is taken to] in an emergency room, or is found wandering in a certain location, once their arm is scanned it would immediately designate who they are, their identity, and the fact that they are an Alzheimer's patient."
The Verichip is a tiny device that contains an identification code. By scanning the microchip, the company says emergency personnel could then tap into the patient's medical information.
For many years microchips have been used to keep track of livestock and find lost pets. But opponents, like Katherine Albrecht, say keeping track of a human being violates the notion of civil liberty. "I don't think that because it is useful in animals is a reason why we should do it to human beings. There is a distinction between an animal and a human being."
Health experts are predicting an epidemic of Alzheimer's disease in the coming decades. It is likely many civil libertarians will be watching to see whether the practice of implanting microchips will grow too.