It’s no secret that seniors are the fastest growing population worldwide. With age, however, comes its own raft of issues, including a decline in bodily functions. Among the most embarrassing? Urinary incontinence, which can range from spotting to a complete loss of bladder control. Scientists from the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, better known as EMPA, however, have developed a pair of underpants that not only keeps its wearer moisture- and odor-free but also doesn’t show or rustle under clothing.


In terms of minimizing discomfort, EMPA’s innovation is a step up from sanitary towels or adult diapers. The reusable pad comprises a hydrophobic (“water-repelling”) layer, plus absorbent material, hidden inside a comfortable brief. Devised by Peter Gloor, who has worked in the field for two decades, and Markus Weder, an EMPA researcher from the Protection and Physiology Laboratory, the device follows what they’ve termed the “waterfall principle.” To wit: By diverting urine through holes in the spacer fabric for capturing by the absorbent layer below, the underwear prevents cooling and the feeling of wetness against the skin.

In terms of minimizing discomfort, EMPA’s innovation is a step up from sanitary towels or adult diapers.

“It wasn’t easy to find the right size holes,” Weder says in a statement. “If the holes are too small, the urine droplets cannot flow through, so they stay on top of the spacer fabric.” EMPA researchers used an infrared camera to measure the effect of the pad. The hydrophobic portion cooled by a mere one degree, rating the pad a pleasant 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) even when wet.

Just one downside: Because the brief doesn’t feature cuffs, it doesn’t provide 100 percent leakage protection if there are large quantities of urine. To solve this problem, Weder and his colleagues developed a close-fitting yet breathable brief, similar to sports shorts, that can be go under regular clothes. One of its features is a waterproof membrane, which prevents urine from escaping and allows only water vapor to diffuse through. Because the brief is able to dry slowly, any resulting odor is markedly reduced.

+ Incontinence Briefs