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.
Up until now, 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 time-consuming and often inaccurate. This is contributing to the reality that whilst 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.
This can be for a number of reasons. Patients with dementia or other health problems will often forget or even refuse to drink water. However, in some cases, dehydration can occur for more complex reasons such as multiple medications acting as diuretics, incontinence, or simply not enough trained staff on-hand to provide the assistance some patients require when it comes to water consumption.
Medical advisors suggest that elderly people should be drinking at least two to three glasses a day, an amount that seems easily quantifiable. With the distractions that come with a nursing role, however, 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.
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. In this manner, 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 groups 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 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 to ensure that people are not suffering unnecessarily and that nursing home staff are able to focus on other crucial aspects of their jobs. It is our goal to continue expanding and make smart drinking glasses a standard piece of equipment in the daily lives of these busy medical professionals.
Antoine Dupont is CEO of Auxivia and mentor to start-ups in the École Polytechnique X-Up accelerator