Improving Lives With the CareChanger Project

Guest post by Levi Puckett

As a 4th year electrical engineering student, I felt like I had missed my chance to join one of those cool engineering clubs. There are so many great options to choose from, but I could never find one that I wanted to stick with. That is, until I was introduced to Mr. Jim McDermott.

Jim is a local father whose daughter, Mariel, is wheelchair-bound and has urinary incontinence. He has been working on an idea for a technology which will make his daughter’s life more comfortable, and afford more time to her care takers.

Determined to work with Jim to improve Mariel’s everyday life, my friends and I founded the UVic Biomedical Engineering Design Team (BMED). We worked closely with Jim and Mariel to develop a prototype for a medical device deemed the CareChanger. It is a truly impactful medical device which will benefit people with incontinence by alerting care takers that the individual needs attention.

Urinary incontinence – the loss of bladder control – is a common problem that affects hundreds of millions of people around the world. Physical and cognitive impairments often prevent an individual from detecting or communicating a urinary “void event.” If a wheelchair-bound individual is not cared for quickly following a void event, the urine can cause skin rashes or other more serious complications. With more than half of seniors suffering from some degree of incontinence, the professional health care teams in care facilities work hard to meet the needs of all their patients.

A group of my friends and I got together to try to solve this problem when Jim brought this to our attention. His daughter Mariel has cerebral palsy and cannot speak, so he devised a way to monitor her void events throughout the day using a wireless sensor tag originally intended for wine cellars.

The team!

The idea behind the CareChanger is simple: use sensor measurements to detect void events, and alert care takers when one is detected so that they are able to efficiently care for their patients.

The prototype created by the BMED team is a small group of sensors placed into the cushion of a wheelchair which monitor temperature and humidity for void events. This information is then used to send notifications to care takers over WiFi exactly when a void event is detected.

The embedded team working on the prototype

The small temperature and humidity sensor lives in the seat cushion of a wheelchair, sending data to a main computer mounted on the back of the chair. We designed an algorithm which detects void events in real time based on the collected data, triggering notifications for care takers.

Assembling the embedded system

Our software team built a web application where the collected data lives for any number of patients. In this way, a single care taker can keep track of multiple patients from one central hub. The app notifies the care taker when a void event happens, and clears the alert when the patient has been cared for.

The software team working on the web application

The mechanical team designed a small casing for the sensor array that sits comfortably in the seat of a wheelchair. The case protects the sensors, while a second case houses the main board, which is mounted to the back of the user’s wheelchair.

We entered our prototype design into the national Innovative Designs for Accessibility (IDeA) competition in April, a competition for innovations which reduce accessibility barriers through innovative design. The CareChanger platform was awarded second place in the technology category!


Our success in this competition has garnered some interest from local media; you can listen to me and Jim speak about the project in our recent CFAX interview.

The team reviewing the event detection system

As we move on to the end of the summer, the team is working hard on a prototype which we will give to Jim and his daughter Mariel. The prototype will be smaller and more hands-off than what Jim is currently working with, giving him and the care takers more time to care for Mariel in other ways.

This technology empowers the individual by giving them a voice, and alleviates some pressure from health care professionals working at understaffed care facilities. I truly believe this device will change lives, and it has been an honour to be a part of its development.

Join the team!

The UVic BMED Team is looking for new members in September! If you’re interested in working on medical devices which will impact our local community, come chat with me at our table during Club Days, or come to our first meeting in September! We have some fun projects coming up for the fall.

For more information about our team and the CareChanger device, visit our website.

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2 Responses

  1. Paul Young says:

    How do I contact Jim Mcdermott, I would like to make a small investment in his invention.