19 May Could Home-Use Pressure Mats Be A Solution for Spinal Cord Patients?
Post written by Dominique Pandy
According to Tamara Vos-Draper, an Occupational Therapist at Mayo Clinic, pressure ulcers are the leading cause of hospitalization for patients who suffer from damage to any part of the spinal cord or nerves at the end of the spinal canal. Spinal cord damage can cause permanent changes in strength, sensation and body movement.
Individuals with spinal cord injuries are unable to sense how much pressure they are putting on certain parts of their body while they are laying down or in a sitting position. This becomes a problem because these individuals often have to use wheelchairs to get around, and depending on the severity of their injury, patients can spend up to 6 months to a year on bed rest. Spending such a long amount of time in a bed is a huge risk factor for developing pressure ulcers.
Research on these injuries have led scientists to develop both preventative and rehabilitative methods for patients with spinal injuries and pressure ulcers to help improve their overall quality of life. One such method includes implementing the use of pressure mats to determine exactly where on the body patients are exerting the most pressure, and precisely how much pressure they are placing. Vos-Draper describes these mats as a “weather map” of pressure.
She explains how the mat has pressure sensors built in, and that doctors and therapists can watch a live visual display on a computer monitor to see when patients are shifting their weight around while using the mat. The map is color coded so that blue-green hues indicate less pressure being exerted while red shows that more pressure is being exerted.
The use of these mats in a clinical setting have shown to be highly effective in rehabilitating spinal cord patients, however, Vos-Draper wondered to herself, “Why can’t people use these at home?”
This question is what led Vos-Draper to apply for CoDE funding with the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Innovation. CoDE grants help Mayo employees with ideas for unique healthcare innovations to grow their ideas and pursue projects they develop. About 3 years ago, Vos-Draper was awarded funding to begin pursuing her passion of making pressure mats available for home use. She states, “Without this [funding], this project would have never gotten off the ground.”
Throughout the process of developing this project, Vos-Draper learned a lot about how to develop mats that would work best in a home environment. After sending the product to a focus group, it was discovered that patients want the mats to be conspicuous, and don’t want them to interfere with their everyday lives. It was also found that the home use mats had to be durable, and that it would be best to find a company that made spandex waterproof mats in case something spilled on one. Additionally, Vos-Draper determined that patients would benefit if they had access to an app to track their own pressure-map data.
“People need to have access to it”, says Vos-Draper. “...their therapists should tweak and individualize it and send it home with them. Hopefully someday insurance companises will approve it for preventative care."
Right now, Vos-Draper is in the process of applying for various funding through the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health. It is her dream that pressure mats will be commercialized for consumer use to improve the quality of life for spinal cord patients.