Evan Schwartz, president of Teaneck-based advanced footwear developer Aetrex Worldwide Inc., knows first-hand the stress of attempting to monitor a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease. So when Andrew Carle, founding director of the Senior Housing Administration program at George Mason University, put him in contact with two-way GPS tracking technology provider GTX Corp., he knew the idea of building a shoe for people with dementia could take off.
According to Schwartz, it has taken Aetrex two years to release its Navistar GPS Footwear System, since the company had to rework GTX’s GPS device to fit into a shoe, put the antennas in a position where the signal wouldn’t be physically blocked and install a USB port to charge the shoe’s battery and connect it to a computer for installation and data recording.
“Sixty to 70 percent of people with Alzheimer’s wander, and that can lead to lots of different tragedies,” Schwartz said. “It’s important for people to continue to be active with Alzheimer’s, because they end up deteriorating faster without walking around. We thought this was a good idea because people with Alzheimer’s can remember to get dressed and put on their shoes in the morning, but forget who their husband or wife is.”
Schwartz said Aetrex has provided wholesale, health-targeted shoes to the health care sector since 1946, including specially designed footwear for diabetic patients. But for its new GPS shoe, Aetrex will directly market to consumers and assisted-living programs, targeting spouses, children and caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s.
“Word got out that we were making (these shoes) … and now we get calls from security companies and military applicants, and trucking companies who want to be able to know where a person is,” Schwartz said. “Eventually, we’ll go into those customer bases. Down the road, children would be ideal, but the device would have to be a lot smaller.”
Schwartz said that users can create a “geo-zone” area and a messaging system linked from satellites to any device — including a computer or a smart phone — so that when a person leaves that area, the GPS immediately sends an alert through a text message or e-mail. The system can also be set up to shoot off updates on battery life and prolonged periods of rest.
According to Schwartz, the shoe retails for $299, with a monthly tracking fee of $30 a month, but the company is “working on pricing options to make it more digestible.” Schwartz said he is looking to launch the product “in a mild way,” slowly building up to increase wholesale distribution through doctors, hospitals and medical supply centers.
“We’re trying to work out if people can pay less up front and more throughout the (two-year) plan,” Schwartz said. “Still, the feedback has been pretty good. You figure it’s $1 a day for peace of mind, knowing you can protect a loved one if they wander and know where they are. That never had a solution before.”