Continence problems are seldom mentioned but they are extremely common in the adult population and prevalence increases with age. Several studies have shown that urinary system function can decline with age1,2,3 and concomitant diseases are more prevalent (congestive heart failure, Parkinson’s Alzheimer’s etc) also mobility problems are increasingly common in older people. Any limitation in mobility is likely to cause difficulties with continence simply because the person finds it difficult to reach the toilet in time or transfer onto it when they get there. Continence management difficulties have a huge impact both economically and in terms of quality of life for older people4. One of the major reasons that people move into residential care is an inability to cope with their continence needs5. The impact of continence difficulties is far more than just the physical effort and expense of continence management, the problem is strongly associated with reduced self esteem, social isolation and depression6.
The TACT3 collaborative research programme has three research work-packages focussed on different aspects of continence issues. 1) Challenging environmental barriers to continence by investigating toilet provision outside the home. 2) Improving interventions and services in continence care.3) Assistive technology development
Our assistive technology development workpackage is focussed on the development of two assistive devices that have been requested by people who use continence pads. These devices address the top two concerns for continence pad users, those of containment of urine and odour. The devices being developed are:
1. Smart underwear with integral sensors and detachable signalling system that can detect a leak from the pad into the underwear and alert the wearer (or carer). The alerting signal (vibration but could equally be a text message to a mobile phone) warns the wearer allowing them to deal with the problem before the urine can spread to outer clothes or furniture. The device should save the work and cost of washing and cleaning but more importantly it should increase the confidence of the wearer who will know immediately if the pad fails and not have to deal with the embarrassment of a wet patch on clothes or furniture.
2. A colour change odour detector that is able to detect sub-olfactory levels of ammonia Worry about odour is a major concern for continence pad users and the level of concern about odour is high regardless of the severity of the continence problem7. Therefore a means of reassuring pad users that they don’t smell and letting them know if an odour is starting to become noticeable should be invaluable for increasing confidence and self esteem. The colour change odour detector we are working on reassures pad users by alerting them to the odour of stale urine before it can be detected by the human nose.
We will be reporting on the development of the two assistive devices including our early clinical tests.