Researchers fitted a wheelchair seat with tiny sensors that alert patients through smart phones to change body positions in order to prevent pressure ulcers.
Pressure ulcers or bedsores form due to poor blood circulation and increased pressure exerted against bony prominences like elbows, knees and hips of persons with disabilities or injuries. They are a significant problem in hospital, long-term care and home care settings because they are linked to increased risk of infection and death. As many as 350,000 of the 2.2 million people in wheelchairs in the U.S. and Canada are at a high risk of developing pressure ulcers, which also accounts for approximately $1 billion in additional health expenditure and 2.2 million additional hospital days every year in the U.S. alone.
Health authorities and clinicians are tackling the problem through a multidisciplinary approach using multiple techniques such as antibiotics, mobilization and the use of specialized mattresses. However, some of these tools may be inadequate and the challenge remains to curb rising rates of pressure ulcers among patients who are bound to wheelchairs and hospital beds. But the development of bed sores is not readily apparent until it is too late and preventive practices are often not followed conscientiously especially at homes. Even if treated promptly, bedsores are difficult to treat because of cases of antibiotic resistance.
Now, researchers at the University of Toronto have devised a way to prevent pressure ulcers from developing in the first place by using sensors fitted inside a seat cushion. SensiMAT utilizes pressure-sensitive sensors that send out an alert when pressure in a particular area is building up after 15-30 minutes. The sensors connect via Bluetooth to a smart phone app that displays red lights for areas subjected to too much prolonged pressure, and green lights for body zones with lighter pressure. The app alerts caregivers that it is time to turn the patient to another position to relieve the pressure.
Nurses and caregivers usually have a schedule in place for turning patients in their beds. But those who use wheelchairs for prolonged amounts of time may not be monitored as closely but still retain significant risk of developing pressure ulcers. The health app can serve as a complementary monitoring system to aid caregivers in monitoring those who use wheelchairs.
The smart phone app can display data regarding habits and pressure reliefs. For instance, users can know how many times they leaned forward, left or right and how much progress they attain every day. Clinicians and therapists can tap into the data remotely and check whether the patient is following the prescribed regimen.
SensiMAT Systems, who was awarded a patent for the application in 2012, plans to eventually bring the technology from the clinical setting to homes, not only to help at-risk patients but also their counterparts who are relatively active. “During our research we found that even people who are very active in their chairs and who diligently complete their pressure reliefs are at risk of developing sores,” SensiMAT System’s David Mravyan, told University of Toronto News.
Collaborating with Milos Popovic, University of Toronto Professor and Toronto Rehab Chair in Spinal Cord Injury Research at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute (TRI), Mravyan came up with a tangible product based on their own research as well as prior studies that showed how wheelchair seat cushions lowered the incidence of pressure ulcers. After undergoing testing at the institute, SensiMAT is now pushing for a crowdsourcing campaign to build hardware and software to make the product viable to market.