When you think about paradigm-changing products, underwear typically isn’t top-of-mind, yet these under-appreciated undergarments may soon play a vital role in enhancing the health and safety of seniors living on their own.
Two top technology honorees at the recently-held 2014 SXSW (South By Southwest) Conference in Austin, Texas aim to elevate underwear beyond the mundane and into the medical care arena.
Briefs with built-in airbags
Falls are the primary culprit behind death-inducing injuries in people age 65 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Proper medication management, balance exercises for seniors and the removal of environmental hazards (e.g. loose carpets, inadequate lighting, bulky furniture, etc.) can cut down on an elder’s chances of falling, but unavoidable tumbles are almost guaranteed to occur, especially when an aging adult lives by themselves.
What can be done to protect elders who wish to remain independent against this dangerous reality?
That is the question retired combat surgeon, Dr. Robert Buckman aimed to answer when he created ActiveProtective, a company that develops wearable technology systems to guard against injury. “We will change the way we care for our independent elderly,” says the organization’s website. “And make hip fractures a preventable condition.”
While serving as Head of Trauma for two hospitals in Philadelphia, PA, Buckman witnessed, firsthand, the devastation that can occur when a senior is hospitalized after a fall. The experience was the driving force behind the creation of a “smart garment”—resembling a pair of technology-laced briefs—that uses motion sensors to detect when a person is falling, then deploys strategically placed micro-airbags to lessen the damage done to their hips and pelvis when they hit the ground.
Dubbed the “fall disambiguation” technique, the sensors monitor a senior’s regular daily routine. When the elder wearing the briefs makes an uncharacteristic movement that the system recognizes as a fall, a series of tiny airbags will inflate, right before their body hits the ground. The garment also acts as an alert device, capable of calling for help when a severe falling incident is detected.
Undergarments with shock-absorbing hip pads have been around for years, but this is one of the first forays into exploring the use of airbag-type technology for fall injury prevention.
A recent round of the fall disambiguation technique at the Veterans Administration Gait Lab showed it to be capable of slashing fall impact force by 90 percent, enough to eliminate the majority of hip fracture risk.
Panties provide practical health tracking
Adult diapers are often unavoidable for seniors dealing with incontinence, but a new pair of high-tech panties can help caregivers and seniors track two common health concerns: urinary tract infections (UTIs) and dehydration.
Developed by Pixie Scientific, a company specializing in health monitoring technology, the “Pixie Brief” is an adult diaper infused with chemicals that interact with certain substances (nitrites and leukocytes) present in an individual’s urine.
The senior dons the diaper once a day. Once it gets wet, seniors (or their caregivers) scan the QR code (a special barcode that contains encoded information) on the front of the diaper with a smartphone or tablet. The QR code contains information gathered from the interaction between the chemicals in the underwear and the senior’s urine. An app then runs a specially-designed algorithm that will track an elder’s urinary health, and can determine whether they need to drink more, or have developed a UTI.
UTIs are a common occurrence in the elderly, but can be difficult to diagnose, due to the fact that the symptoms are typically not the same as they are for younger individuals. Seniors with UTIs primarily exhibit dementia-like episodes of mental decline, memory issues, excessive sleepiness, agitation and confusion, as opposed to the more traditionally recognized symptom of urine that itches, burns or smells odd.
Dehydration is also a concern for aging adults, especially those who live by themselves. Not having enough water in the body can exacerbate preexisting health conditions, and may cause dizziness, fatigue and confusion, which can lead to increased risk for falls.
The ability to diagnose a UTI or spot dangerous dehydration in an elder before their cognition and health start to go downhill will allow for faster access to treatment, and could prevent an unnecessarily dangerous hospitalization.
Both garments are still works-in-progress. ActiveProtective hopes to have their hip-protection technology available for purchase by consumers in the next year, or so. Pixie Scientific has applied for FDA-approval of their underwear for seniors.
“Next-Generation Undergarments Defend Against Falls, Infections“originally appeared on AgingCare.com.
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By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor