Pressure sores are one of our industry’s greatest hidden menaces and a legitimate concern for anyone who spends much of their daily life in a wheelchair or bed.
While little information is known about the number of individuals in Canada who have pressure sores, we do know that in the US 2.5 million develop a pressure injury in acute care facilities every year resulting in as many as 60, 000 deaths annually. In contrast, about 63, 600 deaths were related to drug overdose in 2016 and nearly 56, 000 died of influenza between 2015 and 2016.
What are pressure sores?
While pressure sores are a serious concern, we do know what they are and how to prevent, identify and treat them. A pressure sore occurs when the blood flow to a certain area is affected due to sitting or lying in a single position over an extended period of time. Discomfort is one of the first signs of a pressure sore developing but this can often be overlooked in some patients; individuals and caregivers can also look for changes in skin colour and local skin temperature as the beginning signs of a pressure sore.
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Once a pressure sore develops, symptoms can progress from mild to severe if left untreated. Initial symptoms begin with blistering, followed by broken skin or an open wound; these symptoms can then progress to significant pain and even a deep-tissue injury that can affect the muscles, tendons and bones. In a worst-case scenario, these pressure sores can evolve into life-threatening complications such as gangrene and blood poisoning.
What causes pressure sores?
Pressure sores develop in areas where the patient’s weight is continuously pressing against a surface; when the pressure lasts for more than a couple of hours and the blood can’t circulate to the area, the area becomes damaged due to a lack of oxygen and availability of nutrients. Areas on the skin that get wet due to the presence of sweat or urine are also at a higher risk of developing pressure sores.
Now contemplate that according to a report issued by Wounds Canada in 2018, the lowest cost for treating a deep-tissue injury or Stage 1 or 2 wound is $2,450 per month, while an uncomplicated Stage 3 or 4 is $3,616 per month. Pressure injuries complicated by osteomyelitis cost $12,648 per month to treat. Yikes!
How pressure mapping can help
The best way to approach the issue of pressure sores is to make sure the issue never surfaces in the first place. That’s where pressure mapping comes in. A pressure map is a clinical tool that provides insight into the patient’s pressure distribution. The operator places a thin sensor mat on a wheelchair seat/backrest or mattress and when the patient comes into contact with the mat, the sensor draws a map of all the pressure areas. This map provides key data that can predict potential areas of future tissue damage while providing the patient or caregiver insight into areas of concern and how to modify positioning accordingly.
At Kootenay Columbia Home Medical Equipment, we are invested in the well-being of our patients and their caregivers. That’s why in 2021, we purchased an Xsensor Foresite SS pressure mapping system available for use by Occupational Therapists (OT) and Physical Therapists (PT) to assess a client’s health risks for pressure sores. The unit even allows the operator to take images and video of the individual in realtime to provide valuable, usable analysis.
The beauty of this system is that OTs and PTs can use it to assess and compare the pressure gradients between different wheelchair cushions or mattresses to see which product is best suited to the patient’s natural physiology. Better still, for wheelchair users the device can also show how other elements of the wheelchair setup such as seat slope, back angle, footplate height and more can also affect the pressure distribution. Even among patients at lower risk of pressure sores, this tool can help make their daily life more ergonomic, comfortable and manageable.
Whether you’re an OT or PT, caregiver or family member, or a patient, contact us now to find out more about the science of pressure mapping and how to access our Xsensor Foresite SS pressure mapping system.