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Small optical sensors tackle potentially deadly bed sores



Bed sores

Painful and harmful pressure sores could soon be a thing on the past thanks to a new technology developed by researchers in Australia.

The team at the University of South Australia (UniSA) have created tiny optical fibre sensors which can be attached to a mattress to monitor movement and record respiratory and heart rates.

The sensors can detect when a hospital patient turns over, gets out of bed or remains motionless.

If the patient does not move within a two-hour timeframe, nurses are alerted and can respond by adjusting the patient’s position.

Lead UniSA researcher, Dr Stephen Warren-Smith, said:

“Each year, millions of older people in hospitals and nursing homes experience pressure injuries, or ulcers, which take a long time to heal and can be fatal.

“At the very least these injuries can cause severe pain, disrupt sleep, affect their mood as well as their rehabilitation, mobility and quality of life.”

Unlike wrist wearables like Fitbit and Apple Watch that monitor physical activity and heart rate, these sensors are embedded in the same physical space at the individual, but not on their body itself.

Hospitals already use weight-based sensors or cameras to monitor their patients, but these have limitations, Dr Warren-Smith said.

“Existing weight-based hospital sensors cannot predict when a patient leaves the bed until their feet touch the floor, leaving little time for nursing staff to respond in the event of a fall. Also, there are privacy issues with camera-based technology.”

Respiration rates are often the first indicator that a patient is deteriorating, Dr Warren-Smith said.

This normally requires that the patient is attached to mask or ventilator, but these can be restrictive and are not suitable to all patients.

Dr Warren-Smith said:

“Monitoring vital signs continuously, unobtrusively and cheaply via the mattress-embedded sensors is a far better solution for both patient and nurse.”

Image: University of South Australia

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