Prompt replacement of wet and soiled diapers is a challenge for those who care for elderly or bedridden patients who are unable to communicate this need, such as the cognitively impaired. Now, researchers have developed a smart diaper that alerts caregivers of when it needs changing.

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The system alerts caregivers via an SMS that the diaper needs changing.
Image credit: IBN/A*STAR

Researchers at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore have invented an “intelligent continence management system.”

Lying in soiled or wet diapers is not only unhygienic and uncomfortable, it can also lead to skin rashes and infection, says Professor Jackie Y. Ying, IBN Executive Director and the leader of the research project. She adds:

“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.”

The system that she and her team have developed comprises a thin, disposable sensor strip, a receiver, some software, and a compact wireless transmitter.

The inexpensive sensor can be easily incorporated in currently available adult diapers. The thin, light strip made of metal, plastic and paper is embedded in the diaper and is disposed of after use.

The wireless transmitter is attached to the sensor and is easily disconnected and reconnected to a new sensor in a fresh diaper for reuse.

The sensor monitors the wetness of the diaper and when it reaches a certain level, it sends a message via the wireless transmitter to the caregiver using a preferred method, such as SMS.

The researchers validated their system in late 2013, on 20 elderly residents in a care home. The tests were supervised by Dr. Philip Yap of Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Singapore, where he specializes in geriatric medicine.

The test showed that the system was robust, reliable and easy to use. The results indicate it has a high level of accuracy in detecting soiled and wet diapers.

Patients wearing the smart diapers spent around 90% less time in wet and soiled diapers compared to those wearing normal diapers, say the researchers, who note that smart diapers were changed within minutes of caregivers receiving the alerts.

Dr. Yap, who is also Adjunct Clinician Scientist with IBN, says the smart diaper sensor is a significant advance that allows them to provide a level of care that “upholds the dignity of our patients and reduces the risk of complications such as skin breakdown and infections.”

The patented technology behind the system has already been licensed to an IBN spin-off company, Wet Alert. Prof. Ying says:

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.”

Meanwhile, Medical News Today recently reported on new research that shows how your smartphone can tell if you are suffering from depression. In the The Journal of Medical Research, researchers describe how the pattern of use that is captured in a smartphone can reveal if the user is depressed.