World Continence Week 2021: Chat with Martina Viduka, CEO of Advosense

In celebration of World Continence Week 2021, let’s find out how Advosense is tackling this sensitive condition.

With incontinence affecting 4–8% of the world’s adult population, it’s time to address the stigma surrounding the condition and help patients enjoy a high quality of life, play an active role in society and have access to appropriate treatments.

Back in 2020, a team of three women with over 20 years of combined expertise in fields of nursing, geriatrics, health system management and business strategy founded Advosense, with the goal to help and empower clinicians to know when, where, and how best to respond to their patients’ needs. Their product is a disposable incontinence brief with sensor technology and last year, they were awarded with the EIT Health Headstart grant to bring it to the market. To mark the week, the invited Martina Viduka, CEO of Advosense to tell us more about how they use digital technology to deliver improvements in the delivery of care and improve the quality of everyday life for anyone dealing with incontinence.

  1. 400 million people across the world live with incontinence, and the condition has a large impact on the quality of life of individuals, their families, and caregivers. Nevertheless, it is rarely openly spoken about. Why? 

Yes, incontinence affects a significant proportion of the population, the majority of those being women, 1 in 3 over the age of 65 years old.  It is estimated that this number is largely underreported. As you stated, incontinence has a huge impact on quality of life, people suffering from incontinence are reported to feel depressed, anxious, and lonely. It is a huge burden on healthcare organizations and informal caregivers, struggling to address the issue, and is one of the main reasons for admitting their loved ones into long-term care. Considering the elderly, many believe incontinence is a normal part of aging, and to be clear, it is not. Labeling incontinence as “normal” can lead the individual to accept their condition, not talking about this with families, peers, caregivers and their healthcare providers and not asking for help. There can be a treatment for incontinence depending on the cause and only by talking about it, it can be addressed.

Suffering from incontinence is a very emotional journey. It can cause a lot of shame, hopelessness, and a loss of control, especially for those who need support with incontinence care and management. Anxiety is a major theme, causing worry and people to withdraw from social activities. If we normalize incontinence in the right way,  and speak about it openly,  as a health problem and not an inevitable part of aging we can reach more people suffering and support them.

2. Having been involved in geriatric care for over a decade now, you decided to take matters in your hands. How is Advosense addressing this pressing issue?

Around 70 – 80% of nursing home residents suffer from incontinence around the world. This means that nurses are spending a significant proportion of their workday on incontinence care and we don’t have the right tools to manage this well. Organizations have been attempting to standardize and manage these episodic events with routines and procedures trying to just manage and get by. One of the problems here is that it’s reactive and not aligned with the personal needs of the patients or the front-line staff and causing a lot of preventable wastes and complications. We need to find a better way of managing this.

Advosense is innovating incontinence care management, using a different approach. Through sensing technology, we are providing the caregivers with the right information at the right time so they know when their patients are incontinent, for how long and how much assistance they may need. Now they can prioritize their care: no more guessing, running around checking, searching for materials, or simply forgetting.

What does this mean for patients? The Sensa System acts as an advocate for them. Discreetly, notifying their caregiver, giving back a sense of control and assisting them in asking for support, wherein some cases they can’t ask due to cognitive or mobility impairments or don’t want to because they are embarrassed or don’t want to “bother” their caregivers. With the solution, they are not left sitting in wet briefs at risk for complications such as urinary tract infections, dermatitis, decubitus, and falls and they are feeling clean and cared for. We would rarely see a child in a wet diaper for hours, we should be asking ourselves why this is not the case for adults in incontinence briefs?

3. How have the results been so far?

The results thus far have been very promising. Over 90% of the clinicians we engaged with would love to use the device and see it integrating into their practice easily. We have some amazing organizations both within the EU and North America, who see great benefit in using the product and have partnered with us as early adopters to try out our solution. What we are very excited about is that we are co-creating our solution with the front-line nursing staff at CIUSSS COMTL in Montreal, Canada, to make sure we develop what our caregivers and organizations need most, each step of the way. Together with the Research Team at DBM Centre for Research in Aging, we are working on our first validation study of our solution and are looking forward to the outcomes.

4. Surveys have shown that fewer than 40% of persons with urinary incontinence mention their problem to a doctor or nurse as a result of incontinence being labeled as a “taboo” subject.  In your opinion, what can we do to break this stereotype?

As you stated, incontinence is frequently under-reported not only by older adults, but for example by many women after childbearing, who are not asking for support, unaware that there is treatment or are simply embarrassed to do so. The hardest “taboo” for me to witness was when I was working in the Republic of Congo with women who suffered from vaginal fistulas after traumatic childbirth and were living with incontinence because of this. Many of these women were shunned from their families and had to leave their homes, school and their Church communities because of the lack of understanding, education and hygiene options for these women. It was devastating.

How do we break this stereotype? By bringing awareness to the topic. Not only throughout clinicians but caregivers and families and in society as a whole. We should be asking questions and encouraging discussion, helping our individuals feel supported and autonomous. Putting a focus on the treatment and management of incontinence, coming up with new solutions, ways of working, innovations and giving individuals options.

5. Going back to Advosense now, you were recently selected for the EIT Health ULabs program. What are your plans?

Yes! We were really happy to be selected as part of EIT Health ULabs. We are using this opportunity to collaborate with more partners around Europe and this time around focusing on gathering user feedback within hospital settings here in the EU, so that we can have  a comparison with our North American partners. It will be interesting to see what differentiators and similar themes come out of this. I am personally excited for the opportunity to  speak to even more nurses at the bedside and get into new clinical settings.

6. There are also some new names on board and a new look.

There are! Florian Gmeiner joined our mission a few months ago leading all things tech. He’s been busy developing the product, establishing our quality management, supporting Erin and me, amongst a million other things, and now getting ready to expand our technical team. We are looking for curious, and compassionate software developers to join our community. While he has been busy getting started, we were working on creating our new look to reflect our values and vision:  A world where the elderly feel seen, heard, safe and empowered.  Incontinence is a good place to start.

7. We all agree that emerging healthcare technologies can drastically improve elderly care. How do you see the scene evolving in the next decade?

Indeed. It is a challenging yet perfect time for innovation in elderly care. At the current state, many care facilities and nursing workflows are not so technically equipped and there is a steep learning curve, and challenge for acceptance and change but the improvements will break barriers. The key here is to involve the nurses in every step along the path to innovation. They are your eyes, ears and voices for their professional body and their patients and their family members. They know what is needed and what works, and what doesn’t, they are the innovators.

There have been some great achievements in digitalization of inpatient care and we see this coming towards the long-term care sector. As we have a huge shortage of caregivers to care for our elderly over the next decade and beyond, we are seeing a push for technologies to help manage this and innovative concepts emerging such as hospitals at home.

Unfortunately, nursing in long-term care has not been the most favoured, especially after COVID-19. We need to greatly support and incentivize nurses working in these areas to bring them back to long-term care, get them excited about it, and in turn provide quality of care to their patients while keeping them safe. Technology can play a large role here.

8. Lastly, what is your message on this day?

Incontinence is not a normal part of aging and it’s time to stop doing things the normal way. It’s time to make a change. Let’s empower our communities,  healthcare providers, clinicians and caregivers and support our patients and loved one’s suffering from incontinence. Let’s talk about it.