An ageing society has specific needs for more specifically designed clothes and textiles which must include the socio-cultural environment of the wearer. This is the assumption on which the FP7 TAGS – Textile for Ageing Society project is based. The aim of the four year programme is to improve and/or innovate products and processes to meet the specific textile needs of ageing people in the European population, including those related with bedding textiles.
Indeed, quality of sleep determines the level of personal recovery which subsequently influences the emotional state/condition of the older persons and also their level of mobility and personal independence (Van Someren 2000). Hence bedding textiles are an important component to help support the emotional and physical condition of older persons (Zbikowski & Loker 1992).
In the framework of the project, formal and informal carers have been hugely involved through focus groups and interviews, as an important source of information to: understand their requirements and demands regarding bedding textiles for their care recipients, identify standards and specifications for products, formulate recommendations as well as to assess the scope and boundary conditions for innovation and thus identify barriers which prevent progress.
Questionnaires have been gathered from formal and informal carers from Italy, Austria, Slovakia and the UK (the persons that took part in these questionnaires have a total number of 1,977 persons under their care as a whole), exploring which materials are preferable; what types of functionality would be beneficial to the elderly and/or caregivers and the importance of design features for example; colour, texture, style, design, warmth or easy care.
In regards to the types of material currently used in bedding textiles, a share of 89 % of the interviewed caregivers recommend natural fibres as preferred material for bedding, less than 5 % expect benefits form use of synthetic fibres. An explanation as to why caregivers prefer natural fibres can be attributed to the fact that they are most familiar with this type of material. It is suspected that although carers and elderly people are aware of the types of material being used in existing products in house, there has been little experimentation with other types of materials. Knowledge about the functionalities of synthetic materials has not yet arrived in the field of caregiving thus any new developments using fibre blends or new materials are considered with reservation. This obstacle also highlights the need for training about other types of materials and their properties, as well as their benefits and applications for caregivers.
The different functionalities currently used in bedding textiles have also been analysed. It can be seen that there are clear differences between the desirable functions and actual functions which are prevalent in existing bedding textiles. For example: bed climate regulation emerges as an important property; improved hygiene and liquid management properties would also be desirable as developments in this area would benefit those suffering with incontinence and would also contribute towards the prevention of decubitus ulcers and other medical aspects of skin care. Flame retardancy is also an important property which is desired in bedding textiles. Caregivers also have concerns about the creases in bed sheets as this causes friction in the bed which can cause bedsores (Zhong et al. 2006). The use of sensors and electronic devices was also considered as another aspect of bedding textiles. Caregivers would preferentially like such features to be incorporated in order to assist with the aforementioned desired functionalities such as liquid management and hygiene improvement.
Research conducted in the framework of TAGS also revealed a number of barriers to innovation in bedding textile. Among these, it’s interesting to mention the fact that caregivers are often not included in early stage product development. The development of new products requires involvement of care providers who formulate needs and expectations as basis to initiate well targeted product development.
Also, for caregivers the assessment of products available in the fragmented market is complex and difficult to assess, thus introduction of innovative products is dependent on the individual engagement of a caregiver and wider more general approaches cannot be expected. In order to overcome this barrier, it will be important to develop supportive material which explains the importance of advanced bedding textile concepts for health, quality of sleep and quality of life for the elderly and information tools which enable caregivers, the elderly and textile developers to understand each other’s needs and formulate opportunities for new concepts in bedding textiles.
To learn more, please visit: http://www.textilesforageingsociety.eu.