When Lewis Hornby was in college in London, his grandmother, Pat, was rushed to the hospital after her health rapidly declined. Family flew in, expecting the worst, but she quickly rebounded after 24 hours on IV fluids. His grandmother had deteriorated because of dehydration, a common problem for people with dementia.
"Shocked at how something so minor can have such a big effect, I started to research the issue and found it to be a major problem for many," Hornby told MNN.
He discovered that people with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia often have issues with dehydration. Some just don't feel thirsty, don't find water palatable or have a hard time swallowing. He realized that it's much easier for them to eat, and they find it more intuitive to use their hands — so he decided to create a kind of water you can eat.
"I wanted to create a hydrating finger food," Hornby says. "So I consulted with doctors to work out the mechanisms by which the body absorbs water and prototyped some versions."
Hornby created something that eventually evolved into Jelly Drops, colorful bite-sized balls of water with some electrolytes mixed in. He packaged them in an attractive, easy-to-open container that almost looks like a candy box.
"I found that if I offered a treat to people with dementia they became much more animated, so I used this as a vehicle to get their attention. The resulting format excites people with dementia and they immediately know how to interact with it," he says. "The shape, consistency and the touch of the drops are all designed to be easy to handle, whilst the box's chunky handle, clear lid with locking hinges and booklet are to attract attention and be easy to use."
Hornby, now 24, took five months to develop Jelly Drops. It was his graduating project while he studied innovation design engineering at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London. During that time, he lived in his grandmother's senior care home for several weeks, and she was his tester.
"I knew it worked when she ate seven in the first 10 minutes, the equivalent to a glass of water, something that would usually take a lot of assistance and much more time," Hornby says.
Watch Hornby with his grandma as she samples the Jelly Drops.
Since their creation, Jelly Drops have won several awards including the Helen Hamlyn Design Award, the Snowdon Award for Disability and the Dyson School of Design Engineering DESIRE Award for Social Impact. The product is still under development as Hamby is conducting more trials in other senior homes and is putting together a team to get the product on the market.
"I wanted to tackle the issue because it's something my grandma struggles with," Hamby says. "But beyond that, dementia is the biggest killer in the U.K. and I feel the care home is a relatively under-resourced environment that could benefit massively from better design."