Some safety gadgets work, some don’t

We humans love our gadgets. Aside from devices that entertain us or help us communicate, we’re also fond of items that might save our lives.

We humans love our gadgets. Aside from devices that entertain us or help us communicate, we’re also fond of items that might save our lives.

Researchers not only regularly develop such devices, but also challenge assumptions about them. That’s what a team of Australian scientists did with a recent test of how efficiently smoke alarms waken sleeping kids.

The disturbing bottom line was that nearly four in five kids in the test slept right through their home alarm sounding for 30 seconds.

Researchers led by Dr. Dorothy Bruck of Victoria University in Melbourne enlisted 79 families with at least one child age 5 to 15 to take part in the research through a research website. The results were published in the journal Fire and Materials in March.

A total of 123 children — 70 per cent of them between 5 and 10 years of age — were tested when their parents set off the home alarm after the children had been asleep for one to three hours.

The group was split into two age groups because it’s known that levels of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin are lower after puberty.

And the results did show that the younger children were least likely to be roused — 87 per cent slept through the alarm, compared to 56 per cent of the 11- to 15-year-olds.

However, even among those who did wake up, only about half recognized the sound as coming from a smoke alarm — and only half of those knew the noise meant they should get out of the house. On the other hand, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention review of 15 scientific studies on the use of auto-ignition interlocks found that breath analyzers were fairly efficient at keeping drivers previously arrested for DUI from another offense.

The March American Journal of Preventive Medicine, reported that drivers who had the devices installed in their cars were 67 per cent less likely to be re-arrested than drivers whose licenses had been suspended.

Within a year or so, athletic trainers and military medics could have a new tool that could detect a traumatic brain injury using “lab on a chip” technology with a small blood sample.

The technology was described by Stefania Modello and colleagues at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering in Greeensboro, N.C., in a January report in the journal Expert Review of Molecular Diagnostics.

The chip recognizes specific brain-injury markers in blood or urine samples within minutes after an injury. Currently, brain trauma can only be evaluated based on symptoms that are often also seen in other illnesses and injury, making treatment difficult.

Also in the wings is a new generation of smart bandages. German scientists reported last year that they had created surgical dressings that incorporate a color-coded strip that alerts to possible infection of the wound.

The bandages change color from yellow to purple if acidity levels on the skin indicate infection, allowing caregivers to monitor the wound without removing the covering.

Lee Bowman is a health writer for the Scripps Howard News Service.

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