Smart mattress checks pressure with thousands of sensors

The MAP System introduces a new concept in bedsore prevention: a "continuous bedside pressure mapping system" fitted right onto the mattress.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
2 min read
The system's instant feedback alerts caregivers when a patient should be turned to prevent pressure ulcers. Wellsense

For the young and healthy, bedsores are about as low on the totem pole of concerns as growing old. But for anyone who has spent much time in an intensive care unit, where patients are often bedridden, pressure ulcers are a constant concern.

So Wellsense, a company in Nashville, Tenn., has come up with a monitoring technology to prevent them from forming in the first place. The approach utilizes thousands of sensors that form an electronic sheet over a mattress to detect in real time the precise distribution of pressure across the mattress. The system links up with a handheld monitoring device that displays images of pressure distribution and sounds alarms if patients need to be turned. It even keeps a history of the patient's positioning that caregivers can access across multiple shifts.

To be clear, the MAP System, as it is called, is not the first smart textile on the scene aiming to prevent bedsores. Some mattresses actually shift patients throughout the day and night to ease the physical burden on caregivers, and there's even a pair of smart skivvies that claim to prevent bedsores by actually shocking patients. But pressure mapping technology takes things a step further with a long-term picture of a patient's overall pressure hot points over an extended period of time.

At best bedsores are annoying and expensive to prevent and treat, with 2.5 million people suffering from pressure ulcers in the U.S. every year. At worst they are actually deadly, with 60,000 people a year dying due to complications.

In February, a thoracic surgeon who studied the MAP system on 43 patients concluded that the tech could reduce pressure ulcer occurrence by 50 to 60 percent. Applied widely, that's significant ulcer prevention.

Wellsense says the system is designed for clinical use and has a weight limitation of 550 pounds. See the mattress in action in the video below.