Mechanical and optical properties of thermo-responsive (TR) gels change drastically at their volume phase transition temperature. As the critical temperature is strongly affected by the presence of small amounts of additives in aqueous solutions, TR gels can be employed as sensors for detection and recognition of multiple analytes (from specific ions to hazardous biochemicals to pathogenic proteins) and actuators for biomedical applications. A simplified mean-field model is developed for equilibrium swelling of TR gels in aqueous solutions of additives. Its advantage is that the model involves a relatively small (compared with the conventional approaches) number of material constants and accounts for changes in the thermo-mechanical response at transition from the swollen to collapsed state. The ability of the model to describe experimental swelling diagrams and to predict the influence of additives on the equilibrium degree of swelling and the volume phase transition temperature of TR gels is confirmed by comparison of observations on poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) gel in aqueous solutions of saccharides (glucose, sucrose and galactose) with results of numerical analysis.