ARIIA, the catalyst for innovative hydration pilot project for aged care

Dehydration is a critical issue for people, especially those living in aged care homes, and can lead to various problems, including delirium, falls, hospitalisations, and even an increased risk of death.

Although serum osmolarity is the gold standard for assessing hydration status, it is not routinely conducted. Finding a way to easily detect dehydration at the point of care could significantly improve the lives of older Australians.

Helping Hand, a leading aged care service provider in South Australia recognised the urgency of addressing the problem and sought training and support from ARIIA.

Helder Borges, Allied Health Manager at Helping Hand, attended ARIIA’s Innovator Training Program to scope a project to find a solution.

When asked if he found it beneficial, Helder said he found the five-week program he attended to be really useful and he would highly recommend it to others.

Then through ARIIA’s Aged Care Partnering Program, Helping Hand was introduced to research partner, UniSA, and technology partner, MX3 Diagnostics. Together, with the support of ARIIA Innovation Managers and Research Fellows, they codesigned a project to pilot the revolutionary MX3 Diagnostics Hydration Testing System within Helping Hand aged care homes.

They were successful in receiving an ARIIA Grant in 2023 to assess the usability, acceptability and feasibility of the point-of-care device that determines hydration levels via salivary osmolality in approximately 10 seconds.

It is currently used for hydration assessment within other industries such as military, mining and with elite athletes and is a novel technology for the aged care sector.

Michael Erlichster, Director of Research and Development at MX3 Diagnostics said that before connecting with ARIIA, he found it very challenging to identify partners in the aged care space.

“Although I had found some helpful people along the way, when it came to finding a research partner with access to residents in a long-term care setting it was incredibly challenging.”

“The advent of initiatives like ARIIA, dedicated to fostering connections between researchers, aged care providers, and technology companies offering valuable solutions for the elderly has proven immensely beneficial,” he said.

When Professor Gaynor Parfitt, from UniSA’s Allied Health and Human Performance department, was questioned about the Aged Care Partnering Program, she explained about the support received when putting the project together.

“Typically, there are tight deadlines for grant submissions, which can often lead to rushed processes and underdeveloped projects. In our case, we had the luxury of more time to thoroughly refine our proposal and project,” she said.


Regarding the value of the workshops led by ARIIA Innovation Managers, Gaynor explained that they were truly instrumental in facilitating brainstorming sessions, and enabled the participants to explore various ideas and then refocus on the project’s feasibility and acceptability as the crucial first steps.

“The codesign phase ensured that we proceeded cautiously, avoiding premature leaps’” she explained.

Gaynor further explained the aims of the project.

“The MX3 is a device which should be able to assess hydration within aged care to help people live their best lives,” expressed Gaynor.

“Is it acceptable? Is it feasible? Can we do it? The MX3 Diagnostics Hydration Testing System device has the potential to be able to do just that.”

Gaynor added, “I think the networking opportunity has been the key element, as often when you're putting a research grant together you might either be with industry or you might be with the organisation, so having all three stakeholders working together towards our project has been amazing. So, I would certainly recommend this approach to others.”

All the stakeholders were also grateful to be part of a collaborative team.

Michael expressed that securing grant funding for a phase one study to gauge technology acceptability is a significant opportunity.

“Having an organisation like Helping Hand supporting this level of research and recognising the importance of proof-of-concept studies is highly commendable and presents an excellent opportunity for us,” he said.

“To have this level of engagement and collaboration and being able to work directly with Helder to design the study and get Helping Hand’s perspective and feedback as domain experts, then have the support from ARIIA to help make it a reality is an incredibly valuable opportunity.”

The project team acknowledges that this is the first step in what could lead to a more extensive and comprehensive project in future.

Helping Hand, UniSA and MX3 Diagnostics are optimistic the project is on track to deliver positive outcomes for all stakeholders, including older Australians.

“Our frontline staff are very open and excited about being part of the project and training is currently underway to evaluate the usability of the device from a staff perspective, acceptability from residents, and feasibility for Helping Hand,” he said.

“There are unique challenges associated with delivering a product into an aged care setting and it's very different from our current market. What we're going to get out of this project is a clear understanding of what changes we need to make to our product and what additional tools we need to develop to make it work best in the aged care market.”

“This could be the potential of something really special in detecting dehydration, so it's an absolute game changer,” said Helder.

“Ultimately our goal is to translate this work, and this project marks the beginning of our journey in exploring how we can achieve that.”

“I certainly recommend any company that has a product that has potential in the aged care space to reach out to ARIIA and let them do what they do best, which is link up potential partners and provide support and funding to make that research happen,” added Michael.