People with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia often suffer from dehydration issues for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons is that dementia patients may simply forget to drink water or forget where to find water, even if there’s a cup of it on the nightstand, inches away from them. Others may no longer find water palatable and forget that it is necessary, since they might not feel thirsty. Still others may even forget how to drink water or how to swallow. Dementia patients who suffer from dysphagia—a swallowing difficulty—often have a hard time swallowing thin liquids and require thickening agents to help them get the hydration they need.
When a patient reaches the last stages of dementia and is no longer getting the water they need due to one of the reasons listed above, they rely on the help of caretakers to provide water-laden foods and thickened or flavored beverages to combat dehydration.
None of the current methods will prevent people with dementia from dying of their disease, as there is currently no cure for the issue. But getting creative with hydration techniques can keep people with memory loss problems from experiencing the discomfort and pain of excessive thirst, developing other dehydration-related health issues, and even dying of dehydration.
A young man named Lewis Hornby noticed that his grandmother, who suffers from dementia, was not getting enough to drink and decided to invent something that would make it easier for her to get the fluids she needed. So he used sensory deprivation tools and VR tools to get a better understanding of the issue, spoke with a dementia psychologist, spent a week living in a dementia care home, consulted with doctors about how to create a hydrating product, and returned to the care home several times to test the prototypes of his project. All in an effort to do something to help.
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“For people with dementia the symptoms of dehydration are often mistakenly attributed to their underlying condition, meaning it can easily go unnoticed until it becomes life-threatening,” Hornby writes on the James Dyson Award website. “About a year ago my grandma was unexpectedly rushed to hospital, she was found to be severely dehydrated. Thankfully, after 24 hours on IV fluids she was back to her normal happy self, and is still enjoying a good quality of life to this day.”
What Hornby came up with were Jelly Drops—brightly colored bite-sized balls of liquid that are easier to swallow than water but just as hydrating. The drops are made of 90 percent water with gelling agents and electrolytes to aid in hydration.
The drops don’t require any utensils, are firm and easy to grasp, and don’t leave any residue on the hands. The packaging doesn’t look like a medical device of any sort, so it’s not threatening; instead, it looks like an inviting box of candies.
Hornby says he’s found that people with dementia immediately recognize the colorful Jelly Drops as a treat and are eager to eat them, even if they would normally turn down other types of food or drinks.
“When first offered, grandma ate 7 Jelly Drops in 10 minutes,” says Hornby, “the equivalent to a cup full of water, something that would usually take hours and require much more assistance.”
Hornby carefully thought through the packaging of his Jelly Drops as well. The clear plastic box allows patients to see the goodies inside without lifting the lid, making the Jelly Drops easier to find if misplaced and easier to remember to eat. There’s also a special handle on one corner so that users can open the lid without putting down the box. Then a locking hinge holds the lid in its upright position, freeing a hand to eat with. This is particularly important since many dementia patients struggle to plan and execute sequences of actions.
Jelly Drops have won the Helen Hamlyn Design Award, Snowdon Award for Disability, and the Dyson School of Design Engineering DESIRE Award for Social Impact. They are being trialed in other care homes in the UK, and Hornby hopes to do more research and begin production of his drops soon. Hopefully this ingenious invention will help thousands of current and future dementia patients get the hydration they need to stay comfortable, healthy, and alive—and enjoy it at the same time!
Check out the video below to see how much Hornby’s Grandma Pat enjoys her Jelly Drops!
Thank you, Lewis Hornby, for harnessing your compassion for your grandmother into an innovative product that will help so many people get the fluids they need to survive. Your creativity and dedication are admirable, and the world needs more people like you!
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?