Socks That Save Lives and Limbs

For baby boomer diabetics, new technology could make a difference

Food wasn’t necessarily scarce for boomers when they were growing up, but the memory of scarcity permeated mealtimes. “You never left food on your plate,” explained Florence Moran, 69, of Ridgecrest, California.

Her mother often made carb-heavy casseroles for dinner that would feed and fill up her family of 10 children. Moran’s husband, Robert, grew up in similar circumstances and to this day can’t travel or go on road trips without planning meals ahead of time because his fear of scarcity is so deeply ingrained.

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But the preoccupation with food comes at a high price as boomers age. People who are 50 to 64 are less likely to remain in good overall health as they age — and the number of senior citizens will likely increase by as much as 55 percent in coming years. This means that health care costs will also spike by 2.5 times, according to recent reports from the United Health Foundation.

Moran began gaining more weight when she started taking Prozac to treat her depression. “Prozac makes you feel like you haven’t eaten for two days. You’re just ravenously hungry.” She began slowly gaining weight. Then her general practitioner diagnosed her with diabetes during a routine checkup.

Now she exercises at least 30 minutes every day and restricts her consumption of potatoes, bread, rice — even grapes. “It’s not a matter of just cutting out pies, cakes, and soda,” she said. An increasing number of her friends have been diagnosed with the disorder as well — one of whom was recently admitted to the hospital when she realized her feet had turned bright red. “The doctors are probably going to have to amputate some of her toes or even a foot.”

“When you have diabetes, your peripheral nerves die, and you don’t feel anything in your feet and your hands,” said one diabetic.

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A new line of smart socks launched this fall could help this upcoming generation of diabetics avoid amputations, however. The company, Siren Care, has developed socks with sensors woven into the fabric — these sensors detect levels of inflammation and swelling. They send alerts to a mobile app with updates on foot conditions. Although there are shoes and insoles that do similar things, the socks lie closer to the skin and provide more accurate measurements.

The socks come in sets of seven, with batteries that last six months — and they’re machine-washable to boot. If a sock detects a high-temperature difference on your foot, it will send an alert to your phone so that you can check for inflammation. “When you have diabetes, your peripheral nerves die, and you don’t feel anything in your feet and your hands. You can get blisters, and you never feel it,” Moran said. Speaking of the Siren Care socks, she added, “That sounds like a wonderful technology.”

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Moran doesn’t consider herself at the point of needing this kind of preventive technology, but she thinks it could come in handy in the future.

More than half of all amputations performed — more than 70,000 each year — in the U.S. result from diabetes. The Siren Care technology could prevent exorbitant hospital bills and surgeries, as well as the last-resort amputation procedures. For many diabetes patients, the socks could prove well worth the investment.

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