One of the most common things anybody born after 1950 has heard is that we live in a ‘golden age of health’. The last seventy years have seen not only an increase in average global life expectancy from 48 to 72 years, according to the World Health Organization, but we’ve also managed to de-fang historically catastrophic diseases (influenza, polio, typhus – more recently, malaria) through vaccination. While, we also face the more-directly ‘man-made’ health hazards of today (such as the abundance of carcinogenic elements or poor nutritional value of mass-produced food and drink), overall things are looking up. Nevertheless, there’s one hallmark disease that has dominated the past few decades is dementia, appearing mostly in the elderly and currently, is without a cure. Dementia, as anybody who’s had a loved one suffer through it, is in many ways like losing them piece by piece instead of in an instant – which can arguably be seen as more painful. Improving and easing conditions for both patient and caretaker is, therefore, one of the priorities in the fight against this illness, while scientists work on finding a cure.
This is obviously not a problem to be solved in a single sweep but through a combined attack of numerous different efforts: one of which is the independent initiative by UK university student Lewis Thornby to fight dehydration in dementia patients. Because their condition often stops them from staying hydrated on their own, and with dehydration in dementia being harder to identify, patients often reach the dangerous point of needing urgent IV treatment to survive. Such was the case with Lewis’ grandmother, Pat, and the experience inspired his ‘Jelly Drops’ project. ‘Jelly Drops’ is a simple concept: brightly-coloured hydrating treats that capture the patient’s attention and are therefore much easier to convince patients to take them. A sweet will always seem more enticing than a glass of water, and ‘Jelly Drops’ combine the appeal of the former with the benefits of the latter.
Lewis’ design is the fruit of extensive research on the conditions of dementia patients, including experience at care homes, consulting with experts in the field and even using virtual-reality technology to get a first-hand impression of the sensory deprivation and perception-shifts patients struggle with. Lewis’ ‘Jelly Drops’ have already gathered a good bit of public attention, even being awarded the Dyson School of Design Engineering DESIRE Award for Social Impact and the Helen Hamlyn Design Award – Snowdon Award for Disability. This kind of work, however, is never over: Lewis is already looking into wider testing and production of his design in multiple care-homes across the UK as well as in different stages of dementia. As of September 2018, Lewis has also raised over £8000 in his JustGiving campaign to help fund the project and is still welcoming any and all contributions.
This quick progress is a sign of how much the social care sector recognises the benefits to be had from a project like ‘Jelly Drops’; and Lewis is already receiving requests from care home managers on Facebook. Disguising hydration as a brightly-coloured treat is a creative way to avoid reminding the person with dementia that they are ill and need medical attention and treatment. The care worker can avoid having to convince them to drink water and watch over them while they finish the glass – ‘Jelly Drops’ look appealing and allow carers to hydrate their patients in a quicker process.
From the small beginnings of a loving grandson looking to help his grandmother to potentially helping the whole social care sector across the UK, it’ll be interesting to see what ‘Jelly Drops’ and Lewis do next! After all, this looks like more than just a drop in the ocean.
By Javier Orella.