A team of Swiss researchers has developed a new kind of bed linen with the intention of reducing the occurrence of bedsores among bedridden patients. The new "dot matrix" linen is designed to reduce the contact surface against the skin while allowing for greater absorption of problem moisture that can otherwise exacerbate the problem.
Bedsores, or pressure ulcers, can develop when an area of skin, particularly near to a bone, is placed under pressure from the weight of the body, disrupting the blood supply to the skin. Pressure ulcers can develop in relatively short order when the force is great, but can also gradually emerge over longer periods of lesser but sustained pressure.
Pressure ulcers can also develop from the friction of skin sliding against the bed, and this can be made worse by the presence of moisture such as sweat, which can soften the skin making it susceptible to the condition.
The subconscious fidgetings of the healthy grant them near-immunity to the condition, but those that find it difficult or impossible to move are susceptible. The elderly and paraplegia patients are particularly vulnerable. The researchers claim that these groups face a 50 percent higher risk of developing bedsores during a hospital stay compared to others.
Researchers from the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa), Schoeller Medical and the Swiss Paraplegic Centre have joined forces to tackle the problem, immediately identifying bed linen as the focus of their work. "We evaluated marketable synthetic fibers and developed a material with a kind of dot matrix surface," said research leader Siegfried Derler of Empa, who has been studying ulcers since 2006.
The alternative surface results from the very different structure of the material, which is evident when examined under electron microscrope. Here's a conventional cotton bedsheet under the microscope:
And here's the "dot matrix" linen:
An Empa press release claims the advantages of the material are twofold. The first is that it "produces fewer points of contact and less surface contact with the skin;" the second that the material is more absorbent thanks to the microscopic gaps between the so-called dots.
Though the first trait in particular sounds counter-intuitive, the researchers claim that testing carried out over a period of 18 months produced "more than satisfactory" results, with reductions in sweating, improved blood circulation and greater levels of comfort reported by patients.
This is not the only research into alternative bed linens with a beneficial effect on bedsores. A proven material would certainly prove more cost effective than, say, intelligent beds, as a preventative measure.
The bed linen continues to undergo testing at Schoeller Medical ahead of a launch in early 2013. We asked Dr. Derler if clinical trials (which do exist for bed linen, by the way) had been carried out in order to ascertain effectiveness compared to other materials, and received the following response was brief. "Clinical trials were already undertaken (pilot study including 20 paraplegic patients)," he told us. We'll let you know the details if and when we receive them.