After His Grandma Fell Ill, He Invented A Way To Prevent Dehydration In Dementia Patients

"I found even people that would usually ignore me became animated and would excitedly take many."

When Lewis Hornby's grandmother Pat was hospitalized for dehydration, he knew he needed to do something that would help both her and other dementia patients who suffer the same problem.

"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. Unfortunately for the 850,000 people in the U.K. with dementia, this isn't uncommon, and many aren't as lucky as my grandma Pat," Hornby tells A Plus.

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That's when Hornby came up with the idea for Jelly Drops.

According to Hornby, when it comes to 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. Jelly Drops, however, are treats that help hydrate dementia patients without forcing fluids upon them. Hornby notes that, based on his observations, people with dementia often find eating much easier than drinking. However, it can still be difficult to engage and encourage them to eat. That's when he decided a candy-like treat might be the best alternative.

"This format excites people with dementia, they instantly recognize it and know how to interact with it," he explains. "Jelly Drops builds on this insight — these bright, tasty treats attract the attention of people with dementia, and the firm, easy to grip 'drops' makes them simple to pick up. The box itself contains many features to help people with dementia interact with it, and crucially it doesn't look like a medical device. It's friendly aesthetic reduces stigma around the solution, increasing its uptake."

A box of Jelly Drops
Courtesy of Lewis Hornby

Hornby notes that Jelly Drops are the direct result of insights gained by weeks of living in his grandma's care home. 

"I already had a broad idea of the issues people with dementia face, but I started this project by consulting with a dementia psychologist to better understand their behaviors," he explains. "I then used sensory deprivation and VR tools to experience the difference in perception people with dementia feel. After consulting with Ruby Steel from The Big Life Fix to pick up observation and research techniques, I set off to live in a care home for a week. I observed the behaviors of the residents, the routines of the carers, and spoke to family and visitors." 

"Realizing a solid form of hydration would be easier to interact with than a liquid, I consulted with doctors to understand how to create a 'super-hydrating' food, I experimented to create a consistency that was easy to pick up and left no residue on the hands to produce a hydrating form that people with dementia could interact with," he adds. "Returning to the care home a few times, I tested many formats and found the treat box to be best way to engage the residents. By offering residents treats from a box, I found even people that would usually ignore me became animated and would excitedly take many. Iterating and testing the form lead me to my final design."

A senior looks into a treat box of Jelly Drops.
Courtesy of Lewis Hornby

Hornby says it's easy for people with dementia to become dehydrated, as many no longer feel thirst, don't know how to quench their thirst, or don't have the dexterity to drink. However, most aids designed to help carers keep dementia patients hydrate have childlike or medical stigma attached, meaning they often go unused. That's why Jelly Drops' treat box aesthetic promotes enjoyable social interactions between carers and residents, creating an experience equivalent to the care home environment.

"Whilst people with dementia will eat Jelly Drops independently, they're also designed to be shared," he says. "This is valuable as it can often be difficult to have a conversation with someone with dementia, as they find it hard to express themselves. Jelly Drops' booklet and features provide a talking point people can bond over whilst simultaneously encouraging them to stay hydrated."

"Jelly Drops are over 90 percent water, with extra ingredients, making them more hydrating than just drinking that volume alone. Their solid format also increases hydration, as it takes longer for the body to break them down, giving the kidneys a better chance of absorbing the water," Hornby explains.

"When first offered, grandma ate seven Jelly Drops in 10 minutes — the equivalent to a cup full of water, something that would usually take hours and require much more assistance. Eating the whole box would account for around half the necessary daily fluid intake," he adds.

Yet, while trials have been successful, Jelly Drops are still in the development stage and not available to the masses. Hornby and his team are in the process of crowdfunding in an effort to establish trials across a wider number of care homes before mass producing these hydrating treats. To keep up-to-date on the team's progress or trial Jelly Drops, join the mailing list on the website at jellydrops.co.uk for the latest information.

Cover image: Lewis Hornby

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