Researcher Develops Underwear That May Prevent Bed Sores, Pressure Sores, Decubitus Ulcers

Researchers in Alberta, Canada, are developing underwear that they hope will prevent life-threatening pressure ulcers (pressure sores, bed sores, decubitus ulcers) for people who are immobile or paralyzed.

"This underwear may prolong my life," said Warren Fleury, a 44-year-old whose spinal cord was severed between his shoulder blades during a 1989 car crash, leaving his lower body paralyzed. "I'm very excited because since I've been trying it, besides (reducing the chance of) pressure sores, it's actually relieved some of my pain."

A pressure ulcer (pressure sore, bed sore, decubitus ulcer) forms when a person stays in one position for a long time without shifting or turning over.

That increases pressure deep inside the muscle, breaking it down and creating an inflammation that isn't felt by those who have lost sensation and isn't noticed until it comes to the surface, sometimes resulting in fatal infections.

Pressure sores can also start as skin abrasions or with excess moisture, and cause blisters and life-threatening craters.

Fleury said two of his friends have died from pressure ulcers.

The smart pants are being developed by a team led by University of Alberta cell biology professor Vivian Mushahwar. They will be equipped with sensors that detect increased pressure and lack of oxygen in the buttocks muscles of people bound to a wheelchair.

When the pressure gets to a certain level, the electric undies will emit a jolt of electricity for seven to 13 seconds that will clench the muscles as in exercise and recirculate the blood.

"We're hoping we can restore this subconscious fidgeting to people who are unable to move so that they don't develop pressure ulcers," Mushahwar said.

The technology could be used on people with spinal-cord injuries or those with degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis and ALS, commonly called Lou Gehrig's disease.

Preliminary data suggests the underwear might do a better job of easing pressure than the traditional way of having nurses regularly turn a person over.

Nurses are sometimes required to shift patients every 10 or 15 minutes.

"The volunteers who do have some sensation are telling us that the electric stimulation is giving them much more relief than just lifting," said Mushahwar, who has been working on the underwear concept for five years. For more, read the story.

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Robert W. Carter, Jr. is a Virginia attorney whose law practice is dedicated to protecting the rights of the victims of nursing home and assisted living neglect and abuse in Richmond, Roanoke, Norfolk, Lynchburg, Danville, Charlottesville, and across Virginia.

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