Clothing that is close to the heart
Smart clothing and health sensors developed by European researchers could save thousands of lives by providing earlier diagnoses, closer monitoring and a means to help people manage any heart problems.
The MyHeart project team developed smart textiles so clothing could be embedded with health sensors. Smart clothing offers a safe, effective and simple way for people to take a greater role in managing their own health.
Such clothing is designed to monitor patients located anywhere, and send reports wirelessly on their real-time vital signs to health professionals. One of the drivers for the development is it makes compliance with medical advice easier because patients can regularly monitor their state of health.
The use of smart clothing for health should be highly cost-effective, alerting patients and doctors when a new development needs medical attention or when a management regime needs adjusting.
Stylish healthcare revolution
Smart textiles incorporate clever electronics in the weave of a material. They are comfortable and easy to wear, they work around the clock in the background, or they can take periodic readings. Smart clothing can even be fashionable.
The clothing can communicate wirelessly with the patient and doctors via PDAs, computers, mobile phones and other systems. The clothing can be deployed for both short and long-term patient management.
The development could create a revolution in healthcare. Cardiovascular diseases affects 20% of Europeans and accounts for a staggering 45% of all deaths through myocardial infarction, heart failure, stroke, complications and other conditions. It is the number one cause of death worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation.
Such a high incidence creates a huge problem for healthcare management and is an enormous drain on resources. Worse, cardiovascular diseases are forecast to become more common and widespread as Europe’s population ages over the next 20 years.
Smart clothing could also help tackle the chief risk factors of cardiovascular disease, namely inactivity, poor sleep, stress and obesity.
For example, the MyHeart team looked at ways of assessing sleep quality and diagnosing sleep disorders at home. The team also explored ways to monitor a patient’s physical activity and manage obesity and other conditions.
The researchers developed prototypes of four ‘concepts’ that offered the greatest benefits. The first concept relates to the management of heart failure patients by monitoring their vital signs with sensors integrated into the clothing. The sensors can communicate wirelessly with PDAs, providing alerts and feedback.
The second prototype, the NeuroRehab system, can provide remote rehabilitation support for stroke sufferers. The use of sensors linked to PDAs can help medical staff guide and monitor a patient’s rehabilitation routine, including the exercises they perform to maintain and improve function in affected body parts.
Specialists can then supervise the treatment remotely. The system also makes it easier for patients to comply with the treatment advice. It is ideal for rural regions, and could save citizens the time, money and inconvenience of having to travel to a medical centre, which may be far away.
The third prototype, the Take Care concept, uses sensors and PDAs to help people at risk and those who want to stay healthy. The prototype assesses and helps patients reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases by addressing sleep problems, stress, inactivity and overweight.
Lastly, the activity coach prototype provides a training platform to help users get the most out of exercise. The prototype combines a means of monitoring vital signs with appropriate medical feedback.
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