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Smart Sensor Informs Caregivers to Change Diapers

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 26 Aug 2015
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Researchers have developed a sensor technology that alerts caregivers by SMS when diapers are soiled, thus reducing the time patients wait for diapers to be changed, which helps reduce health risks and discomfort for incapacitated patients.

Researchers from the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN; Singapore) of Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR) invented the intelligent continence management system, comprising a thin disposable sensor strip, a compact wireless transmitter, a receiver, and software, to improve the care of elderly and bedridden patients. Timely replacement of soiled diapers is particularly challenging for caregivers of patients who are unable to communicate this need, such as those who suffer from aphasia (loss of speech after stroke or brain injury).

“Lying in soiled diapers for prolonged periods is not only uncomfortable and unhygienic, but may also cause skin rashes and infection for the wearer. While increasing the frequency of diaper checks and changes may help to reduce this problem, it would also add to the workload of caregivers. Clearly, there is a need for an alternative solution,” said IBN Executive Director, Professor Jackie Y. Ying, who led the research effort.

IBN’s sensor can be easily integrated into the adult diapers currently available in the market. It comes in the form of a thin, lightweight strip of metal, plastic, and paper. This inexpensive strip will be embedded in the diaper and can be disposed easily after use. The wireless transmitter connected to the sensor is easily attached and removed for reuse.

The system tracks wetness level. Once diaper wetness reaches a predetermined level, the sensor transmits a signal wirelessly to caregivers via their preferred interface, such as SMS, prompting to change the diaper.

IBN conducted a clinical validation of the prototype on 20 elderly residents at St Joseph’s Home in November-December 2013. The validation was supported by the Agency for Integrated Care, and Dr. Philip Yap, a specialist in geriatric medicine from Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, who is also IBN’s adjunct clinician scientist.

The results showed that this monitoring system was robust, reliable, easy to use, and highly accurate in detecting soiled diapers. Importantly, it facilitated timely diaper change: patients wearing the sensor-embedded diapers spent approximately 90% less time in wet diapers compared to those wearing normal diapers. Each sensor-embedded diaper was changed within minutes after the caregiver received the alert.

This patented technology has recently been licensed to IBN’s eighth spin-off company Wet Alert Pte Ltd. The technology also won the Bronze Prize at the Long-Term Care Quality Festival Poster Competition in 2014 organized by the Ministry of Health and the Agency for Integrated Care. “We are now working with Wet Alert to develop the prototype into a commercial product by further improving its user-friendliness and reducing the production cost,” added Prof. Ying.

“Physically frail and cognitively impaired patients have for a long time suffered the ignominy of lying for prolonged periods in soiled diapers; this is incompatible with the high quality care we want to give to our patients. The smart diaper sensor is a significant advancement for we can now truly provide care that upholds the dignity of our patients and reduces the risk of complications,” said Dr. Philip Yap.

Related Links:

Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology 
Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR)

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