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.
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.
“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.”