Can a Technology Solution Help Seniors Prevent Dehydration?

Technology can provide our seniors with so many great benefits that can help them age in place and maintain their independence.

More and more applications for technology are being developed, with many having real potential to improve the health and wellness of our seniors, often lightening the load for family caregivers.

Recently we spotted a new tech innovation that could help our seniors recognize hydration through their skin.

The future for wearable technology is promising and now includes automatic body monitors that can read our hydration status using sensors in the band. Well, these are just becoming ready for use.

Another device that might help alert seniors when they are getting dehydrated is a skin hydration sensing sticker.

You may be asking . . . is dehydration really that great a problem for seniors that they need technology to help solve it?

Dehydration in Seniors

We hear that term often but do we all really understand what it means and how it can greatly it can affect our seniors?

Dehydration is actually a physical result of consuming less fluid than the body requires for proper functioning.

Our bodies naturally lose water each day through breathing, sweating, urination and bowel movements. Certain other physical conditions can increase our need for water, such as vomiting, diarrhea or wounds.

We need to replace all the fluid that we lose each day. When we don’t our bodies get unbalanced.

The physical symptoms of dehydration range from minor to severe and include:

  • Dry mouth and lips
  • Increased thirst
  • Weakness
  • Dry skin
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Heart palpitations
  • Fainting
  • Reduced urination
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Seizures
  • Death

Sometimes you can spot dehydration through the color of your senior’s urine, especially if it changes to become a deeper, more concentrated color such as deep yellow or amber.

New Skin Sensing Technology

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are testing an electronic devices that will allow wireless data transmission and storage for different applications, including medical identifiers in a wearable form.

One of their wearables is designed to continuously collect and transmit data from the body.

They are partnering with L’Oréal USA, a cosmetic company, as they try to understand the skin. They are investigating what makes the skin healthy as well as beautiful.

Their wearable device measures changes in the temperature of the skin caused by changes in the blood flow but doesn’t change the condition of the skin itself.

This data can be tracked over time, just like fitness data from wearables to monitor skin health.

Another measurement is skin hydration. It can help to determine when lotions or emollients would benefit the skin.

Patents are forthcoming and the device could be available as soon as next year. The sensors are expected to be low in cost and are made to be worn on any part of the skin and are the size of a dime. Similar to other wearables, the data is synced by Bluetooth to devices such as a smartphone.

Because this particular sensor is flexible, unlike bands, they are more accurate at measuring the skin.

Despite the fact that these wearables are being tested to determine if lotions are impacting skin health, older adults can certainly use this information to determine if they are at risk for dehydration. Unhealthy skin in need of hydration begins from within.

Researchers see a future when these flexible sensors can perform a variety of medical measurements, including vital signs, and even measure brain waves.

Treating Dehydration Now

While these tech innovations sound like they will solve many medical problems for monitoring not only our senior loved ones but people of all ages, they aren’t ready yet.

Until they are ready, we are going to have to be observant to signs of dehydration in our seniors now and take steps to prevent or treat dehydration.

Family caregivers’ interventions should include:

  1. Encouraging seniors to drink more fluids, drinking smaller amounts more frequently
  2. Having seniors take a drink every time they use the bathroom (replacement principle)
  3. Keeping fluids within reach so they don’t have to seek them out
  4. Giving foods that are good sources of fluids, such as melons, popsicles, soup, gelatin
  5. Supplementing with special fluids, such as Pedialyte or Gatorade, when dehydration is a concern
  6. Using a straw if fluid is better tolerated without spilling
  7. Avoiding excessive activity (reduce sweating)
  8. Wearing light clothing
  9. Avoiding sun exposure at peak hours of day
  10. Reviewing medications to be sure none are contributing to dehydration
  11. Don’t rely on thirst in seniors, monitor how much fluid is taken each day and encourage adequate amounts
  12. Checking color of urine –pale straw color or clear is the goal
  13. Reducing caffeine or alcohol as they can contribute to inadequate hydration
  14. Not letting a fear of incontinence or falling in the bathroom lead to lack of fluid intake

Physical Considerations for Adequate Hydration

It is interesting to learn that, as we age, our total body water content declines. A man can drop from 60% to 52% and a woman from 52% to 46% in body water with age. What that means is that someone who is over 60 has less water to lose before they become dehydrated.

It is even more important to be sure your senior loved one gets enough to drink and avoids exertion or heat.

When your senior is ill with vomiting, diarrhea or other illness, it is very important to replace any fluid losses to prevent dehydration that can make their illness even worse perhaps resulting in a hospital stay.

It has been found that older adults who don’t drink enough liquid not only become dehydrated, they also have a greater risk of constipation, urinary tract infection, respiratory tract infection, kidney stones and medicine toxicity. Being dehydrated can also increase falls, falls with injury and the need to recuperate in a rehab facility.

A glass of water seems like such a simple thing that has the power to keep our seniors independent with an improved quality of life.

It’s a habit worth developing!