Controversial Benefits of Microchip Implants for Alzheimer’s Wanderers

Memory loss impairment

By Pamela D. Wilson, CSA, MS, BS/BA,CG

For millions of families with a loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, the fear of wandering off during the day or night is a significant concern.  We’ve all see stories of individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s walking out of their private homes or assisted living communities never to be found or found half way across the country by the police.  Wandering is a significant concern for retirement communities who accept individuals with memory loss, so much so that communities have devoted areas called memory care that are locked or gated so that individuals cannot leave.

Might an alternative, be a device that could provide medical information in the event of an individual becoming lost or hospitalized?  VeriChip Corporation has developed microchip implant technology able to provide medical history and identification for Alzheimer’s patients who wander, similar to the chip implants pet owners place in their dogs or cats.  Interestingly enough the technology has other uses for example, serving as a “unique lifetime identifier or ULI”. (1)

Alzheimers WomanThe chip has the capacity to hold the entire medical record of an individual.  For example, in the event of an emergency room visit, the hospital can access immediate information often saving a life especially if the person is unconscious or has no one with them upon admission to provide medical history. This would be especially relevant to older adults who live alone and who may not remember their medical history or be able to provide information about medications they are prescribed.

The chip has the potential to hold other personal information such as passports, insurance, banking, social security number, birth certificate, marriage license etc.   Imagine never having to hunt for this information again.

The controversy lies in discussions over government control, privacy and security.  Past records indicate that the chip has over 2,000 recipients and more than 900 medical facilities have chip readers. One interesting concept is the idea of an insurance company having the ability to monitor the activity level of an individual, thus giving larger premium discounts to individuals who are more active.  The cost is a $200 initial fee and a $10 data storage fee each month, comparable to the cost of a Project Lifesaver wrist band that is only good up to 1-2 miles from home.

Opponents to the concept state that a bracelet like Project Lifesaver or the Medic Alert Safe Return bracelet or necklace is less invasive and can equal the chip in results.  But can it really?  Either of these less invasive methods is limited by distance, 1-2 miles from home and medical information is not readily accessible.

Proponents state that the chip should be offered as a voluntary measure and then as popularity spreads be a mandatory item especially for at risk individuals and children.  Leslie Jacobs, one of the first to receive a VeriChip said, “The world would be a safer place if authorities had a tamper proof way of identifying people.  I have nothing to hide, so I wouldn’t mind having the chip for verification. I already have an ID card, why not a chip?” (2) 

Time will tell whether society will embrace the new technology or see it as a personal tracking mechanism for the government and large organizations.  Yet undoubtedly there are benefits for those with memory loss who might become lost or are unable to report their medical history in the event of an emergency.


(1)    Michael, K. et al. Microchip Implants for Humans as Unique Identifiers:  A Case Study on VeriChip.  University of Wyoming, 2008.

(2)    Michael, K. et al.  The Social, Cultural, Religious and Ethical Implications of Automatic Identification.  University of Wollongong, Australia.

© 2012, 2013 Pamela D. Wilson, All Rights Reserved

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