Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Avoidable catastrophe: ‘Smart’ drinking glasses to keep the elderly hydrated



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Antoine Dupont is CEO of Auxivia and both alumnus of and mentor at the École Polytechnique X-Up accelerator in Paris. Here he explains how he has used technology to help solve a universal yet simple issue

Dehydration is one of the ten most frequent reasons for the hospitalisation of patients over 65. It is proving to be a persistent problem in elderly people, associated with a diverse range of poor health outcomes such as low blood pressure, increased risk of falls, impaired cognition and even higher risk of death. Although hospital food quality and malnutrition are issues often appearing in the news, dehydration is an equally important concern and an indication of poor quality patient care. Improvement in this area would mean reduced prescription of medications, illness prevention and an overall better quality of life for patients and elderly people.

Up until now, however, there has been little to no innovation in this area. Currently, European caregivers record the hydration of a significant number of patients using rudimentary pen and paper methods, which are both time-consuming and often inaccurate. Routine tests used to spot signs of dehydration, such as pinching the skin on the back of the hand, also do not provide reliable results for healthcare professionals. These factors are contributing to the reality that while older people should be consuming 1.5 – 2L of water a day, often in nursing homes, a mere 0.5 – 0.8L is the average consumption rate.

There can be a number of reasons for this. Patients suffering from dementia or other health problems will often forget or even refuse to drink water. Physical changes to the body as it ages also impair the ability to be aware of and respond to thirst. In other cases, dehydration can occur for more complex reasons such as combinations of medications acting as diuretics, embarrassment about incontinence, or simply not enough trained staff on-hand to provide the assistance some patients require.

Worrying symptoms

In the short term, dehydration can cause feelings of anxiety and sleeplessness while impairing mental functions like memory, attention span, concentration and reaction time. Other common complications include low blood pressure, weakness, dizziness and a higher likelihood of developing skin conditions. The longer-term complications are much more serious and can even result in a higher risk of death. This is due to the fact that water also plays a key role in keeping the urinary tract and kidneys healthy, as well as protecting against a much broader spectrum of diseases. A low intake of fluids leaves elderly patients more prone to these types of risk, which are much harder to overcome.

With this in mind, medical advisors suggest that elderly people should be averaging at least two to three glasses of water a day, an amount that seems easily quantifiable. The distractions that come with a nursing role, however, mean that tracking each patient’s water intake can be tedious and unreliable. It is for this very reason that I, along with my co-founder, Vincent Phillipe, created Auxivia – the smart drinking glass technology that alerts medical staff if individual patients are in danger of becoming dehydrated. These light system alerts are adjustable according to the patient’s pathology and external factors such as heatwaves.

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Antoine Dupont

Smart and clever, too

So, how does it work? The automated technology ‘recognises’ each patient’s individual glass, which is synced to a small and unobtrusive Bluetooth necklace. As the patient drinks throughout the day, an ultrasound chip at the bottom of the glass measures the volume of water consumed against a personal target set by a medical professional. An accelerometer measures the rate at which water flows from the glass, allowing it to detect if the fluid is poured away instead of orally consumed. The technology is able to detect behavioural disorders in patients who are trying to cheat the system or refusing to drink water. An online data platform records all of this information, which can then be used by healthcare professionals to produce performance indicators and manage the hydration policy within their institutions.

The main causes of illness in nursing homes are all connected to dehydration and malnutrition. When conducting research four years ago, Vincent and I spoke to a number of senior medical staff who voiced their concerns about the lack of a reliable system to track hydration. Having always been interested in biotechnology, we decided to take the necessary steps toward solving this problem and enrolled at the ‘X-Up’ fast track entrepreneurship accelerator at École Polytechnique. At X-Up, we were given access to a prototyping space, workshops, meetings on key topics like fundraising, and access to three mentors: one for business, one for lean start-up development, and one for technology. This helped to get Auxivia off the ground, providing crucial knowledge and a viable alternative to the most expensive stages of starting a business, such as using an external prototyping lab.

After two and a half years of development, Auxivia has been launched in 50 nursing homes and in private properties of 900 residents, where 2,100 smart drinking glasses are already having an impact on people’s lives. Additionally, they are also being used by home caregivers of a well-known French company to track hydration of their patients with chronic diseases. Dehydration is a serious issue, but it is one that is almost entirely avoidable. It is of the utmost importance to use new technologies at our fingertips such as these to ensure that people are not unnecessarily suffering and that nursing home staff is able to focus on other crucial aspects of their jobs. It is our goal to continue expanding the use of our product and to make smart drinking glasses a standard piece of equipment in the daily lives of these hardworking medical professionals.

About the author

Journalist and editor Kathryn Reilly has worked in consumer, contract and medical writing for more than 20 years.

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