New dehydration app alerts users when to increase fluid intake
Within the next 12 months, users will be able to attach a patch to their arm that alerts them to when they are dehydrated.
Dehydration is even a cause for concern in a first world country such as the UK. Although most have fairly easy access to clean drinking water, some are often either unaware that they are dehydrated, or simply unable to hydrate themselves due to poor mobility or limited access.
A reduction in hydration levels of as little as 2% of body weight can lead to greater feelings of fatigue and reduced levels of alertness.
The physical and financial cost of malnutrition and dehydration is a huge issue in the UK: More than 3 million people are affected at any one time, and the annual cost to the NHS associated with malnutrition exceeds £19.6 billion.
Currently, the most accurate measurement of dehydration is a blood test. These are often relied upon in hospitals but are expensive and the time taken to get results limits their effectiveness. If a patient is dehydrated enough for it to show up in a blood test, the wait for the result is a delay they can’t afford.
Outside of a hospital setting, patients may be questioned on fluid intake and markers such as the quantity and colour of urine, dry mucus membranes, rapid pulse and slow capillary refill times are used to assess the extent of the problem. The questions are open to individuals’ interpretations though, and markers can be affected by underlying conditions and lifestyle, meaning both options can be inaccurate.
Fortunately, nearly everyone has access to water, and with visual and electronic indicators on phones or smartwatches, reminders and tracking apps that tell us what we should drink in a day, it should be relatively easy to stay hydrated. However, these are just guides to maintaining healthy levels of hydration, rather than assessing a person’s underlying biology.
However in recent years, devices are being developed that use patches to measure the chemical contents of sweat on the skin. These cheap, single-use skin monitors are wearable, wireless and battery-free and will analyse the sweat on your skin. This information will then link to an app to give the user the ability to monitor hydration levels and could even have the capacity to diagnose other health problems.
Expect companies like Apple and Fitbit are set to use sensors with similar capabilities and add this functionality to their smartwatches, alongside a host of start-ups developing cheaper wearable tech specifically designed to measure hydration.
Researchers at Harvard and MIT have developed bio sensitive inks. This “smart tattoo ink” incorporates biosensors directly onto the skin and can alert people to particular health characteristics such as dehydration and blood sugar levels by changing colour.