Three young entrepreneurs took up residence in retirement homes for a year in order to find out what the biggest challenges requiring solutions are at this type of institution. The outcome of their investigations is a startup called Sensassure.
In 2014, Sameer Dhar and his two Sensassure co-founders, all three then aged twenty, set out to work on an innovative venture to help senior citizens, without really knowing what problems in particular they ought to be tackling. So, they set off on a journey of over 6,500 kilometres across nine US states, paying visits to a wide range of home care agencies and nursing care operators.
In order to better understand the dynamics of the care home sector, the three would-be entrepreneurs then decided to spend twelve months fully immersed in three different retirement homes on the north-eastern seaboard. “Taking this initiative, i.e. staying for a long period of time in a retirement home and living at the normal pace of the place was an essential step towards understanding our users and our market,” Sameer told the audience at the Aging 2.0 conference which took place in San Francisco on 12-14 October.
As a result of their stay in the senior citizen homes, during which they came up against the many problems faced by the residents and care workers, the three decided to develop a solution to help deal with urinary incontinence, which nowadays affects over 50% of nursing home residents in the United States.
A technology solution to help nursing home residents and staff
For care staff, who have to look after a number of elderly people at the same time, knowing exactly when a patient needs to have his/her garments changed is often still a very inexact science. “When we talked to the people running the homes, they explained that they had set up a very well-thought-out system for changing incontinent residents in good time so as to avoid them having to stay uncomfortable for any length of time. However, the nursing staff recognised that, in practice, they were mostly just groping in the dark with this problem,” Sameer revealed. There was in fact real disparity between what the nursing home managers said was happening and the actual approach of the nurses. The managers had even given their staff iPads so they could enter real-time information on when they changed their patients. However, the nursing staff found the iPads cumbersome to carry with them on their rounds, so they were only entering the information once they had got back to the office. So the basic challenge the three entrepreneurs had to meet was: residents need a higher level of service and in order to deliver on this, nursing staff require a technology solution that would enable them to optimise their work.
Sensassure founders tried out the product first
Drawing on this gutsy and unusual initiative, the three partners developed their ‘SmartPatch’, which is designed to attach to the outside of a pair of briefs. The patch looks a little like a sanitary towel, but has embedded sensors that detect moisture and alert staff that a patient needs changing promptly. “The biggest challenge was to programme our system so that an alert would be triggered on the basis of a certain degree of wetness. It all came down to determining what level of wetness was tolerable for the patient so we decided to be the first to use our product,” Dhar explains, pointing out: “Manufacturers of incontinence nappies claim that their products can absorb up to a litre of fluid, but when we tested our solution we soon realised that the reality was very different.”
Today the Senssasure product is being used by Lorien Health, Revera and Carlon Senior Living, three companies that run nursing homes and senior communities in Canada and the United States. Meanwhile the three entrepreneurs have no intention of resting on their laurels. “We’ve benefited from the experience and wisdom of the residents. Having the opportunity to share our views and to try and understand their perspective on things during our long stay at the homes has been an exceptional adventure, which has changed us all, both personally and professionally. We want to continue making high-quality products at low cost for the organisations that use them, and so to help achieve better results both for nursing home staff and their residents,” stresses Sameer Dhar.
Sensassure SmartPatch web interface