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March 26, 2014

Professor hopes GPS shoes are step in right direction

FAIRFAX, Va. — Andrew Carle, an assistant professor at George Mason University and a consultant on senior housing issues, is always looking for new technology to improve the lives of the elderly.

He’s even coined a term for his life’s work: “nana technology.”

“I’ve always tried to close the great divide between geeks and grans,” said Carle, who’s also the founding director of GMU’s program in senior housing administration.

So when he came across a shoe in 2007 with a Global Positioning System device embedded in the sole — an innovation aimed at parents concerned about their kids disappearing — he had an idea.

Why not use the technology to develop a shoe for senior citizens?

It could be a lifesaver for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia patients while easing caregivers’ fears that they’ll wander away.

‘REALLY TOUCHED US’

Carle met with Patrick Bertagna, chief executive of GTX, the Los Angeles-based maker of the shoe.

“It just really touched us,” Bertagna said of his meeting with Carle. “I brought in a whole management team to shift our focus.”

By late 2011, a new GPS-equipped shoe was ready for people with a variety of cognitive disorders, including traumatic brain injury and autism. Word spread quickly, and in 2012, a Swedish science museum named the shoe one of the “Top 100 Innovations of Mankind,” alongside the telephone and the Internet.

Now, Carle and GTX are taking their nana technology a step further. They’ve developed insoles with an embedded GPS device so that the technology can be easily moved between pairs of shoes. The “Smart Soles” are being tested by groups that work with dementia patients, and Carle said the soles are scheduled to be released this summer.

The GPS shoe and insole have all sorts of potential ramifications, and the word is spreading. During Super Bowl week, Carle met with the NFL Retired Players Association, many of whose members are believed at risk of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease.

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