Patients who are confined to a bed or wheelchair for extended lengths of time are susceptible of developing pressure ulcers, also known as bedsores. Pressure on one part of the body for too long can cut off blood flow to the skin, resulting in damaged tissue that eventually dies and results in wounds that can be difficult to treat and take a long time to heal. This problem affects about 2.5 million people in the U.S. every year, at a cost of about $11 billion.
Researchers at the University of California Berkeley have developed an electronic sensor that could turn a bandage into an intelligent wearable device that is able to detect bedsores before they happen. The matrix of electrodes send a pattern of electrical currents through the skin. The way these electrical charges are changed by the tissue makes it possible to map damaged areas before any visible symptoms appear. This makes it possible to take corrective action early, to avoid the wounds that are so difficult to heal.
The supporting electronics can be miniaturized, making it a practical system for healthcare workers and care givers. A pen-sized wand could obtain readings from the smart bandage. Eventually, the system could be a self-contained module that would wirelessly transmit data that could be analyzed and automatically trigger an alert if damage is detected. Clinical trials for the system are underway.