Knowledge of an individual's skin condition is important for pressure ulcer prevention. Detecting early changes in skin through perfusion, oxygen saturation values, and pressure on tissue and subsequent therapeutic intervention could increase patients' quality of life drastically. However, most existing sensing options create additional risk of ulcer development due to further pressure on and chafing of the skin. Here, as a first component, we present a flexible, photonic textile-based sensor for the continuous monitoring of the heartbeat and blood flow. Polymer optical fibres (POFs) are melt-spun continuously and characterized optically and mechanically before being embroidered. The resulting sensor shows flexibility when embroidered into a moisture-wicking fabric, and withstands disinfection with hospital-type laundry cycles. Additionally, the new sensor textile shows a lower static coefficient of friction (COF) than conventionally used bedsheets in both dry and sweaty conditions versus a skin model. Finally, we demonstrate the functionality of our sensor by measuring the heartbeat at the forehead in reflection mode and comparing it with commercial finger photoplethysmography for several subjects. Our results will allow the development of flexible, individualized, and fully textile-integrated wearable sensors for sensitive skin conditions and general long-term monitoring of patients with risk for pressure ulcer.
Image: THIS SENSOR IS LITERALLY WOVEN INTO THE FABRIC OF OUR LIVES. (LUCIANO BOESEL / EMPA)