Student invents ‘water you can eat’ after gran almost died of dehydration
Hospitals don’t give families bad news lightly. So in February 2018, when Lewis Hornby and his mother received a call saying his Grandma Pat, who had been living with dementia for five years, had gone downhill suddenly and they should prepare for the worst, they got ready to say their goodbyes.
“Grandma had become completely unresponsive,” recalls Lewis, now 26. “But within 24 hours of going on to a drip, she was back to her normal, happy self. It turned out she had actually just been dehydrated. I was shocked that something so basic could have had such a huge impact.”
Engineering graduate Lewis, from Lancashire, was studying for a Masters degree at Imperial College London at the time. As part of his course he needed to create a product and the experience sparked an idea that could help Pat get the fluids she needed.
“I started speaking with psychologists and realised that not drinking enough was a massive issue affecting people with dementia,” says Lewis. “It turns out some don’t feel thirst, others don’t recognise cups or have the dexterity to use them. They might not even realise that drinking will quench their thirst and not having enough fluids just adds to their general confusion.”
To better understand the problem, Lewis went to stay in his grandma’s care home in Harrogate.
“It quickly became apparent that the confusion caused by dementia and Alzheimer’s leads to some really odd behaviour, like putting food in drinks or pouring them away. Spilling drinks is easy enough, but they’d also fall asleep with them in theirlaps.
“By far the biggest problem, however, was that many people would refuse help to drink and the carers just didn’t have the time to sit with the residents to ensure they were sufficiently hydrated.”
During his month at the home, Lewis discovered there was one surefire method to ensure residents engaged with him.
“Most of those with dementia would ignore me when I went to say hello, which is fair enough,” he says.
“But if I had a box of chocolates they would suddenly light up, start speaking in full sentences and help themselves to a handful. So this gave me the idea to create a solid form of hydration that they would see as a treat.”
Teaming up with a couple of fellow students, Lewis came up with an innovative fruity ‘sweet’ made up of 95 per cent water and electrolytes. He headed back to the care home with his prototypes and they were an instant success with Pat.
“In the first 10 minutes after I offered them to Grandma she had seven drops,” he says. “It would have taken me hours to get her to drink the equivalent amount of water for hydration.”
Lewis took videos of Pat eating the drops and submitted them to the James Dyson Awards, which give cash prizes to invest in new innovation.
“We didn’t win but the organisers messaged to say they had received
an unprecedented number of people inquiring about it,” he says. “I started getting all these random emails from people who had seen the videos. It sort of blew up overnight. I realised there was a huge demand so decided to crowdfund its creation.”
Thirty seven per cent of older people acutely admitted to hospital are dehydrated. It is thought that by 2050, two million people will be living with dementia, making innovation in this area vital.
A Justgiving page raised £10,000 to kick things off.
“I started off in a co-working space, cooking the jellies on a hob at my desk, with people staring at me wondering what the hell was going on. From there we moved into a test kitchen.”
But things really took off when Lewis won a grant from the Alzheimer’s Society’s Accelerator Programme, which invests in products for people living with dementia. “They gave us a £100,000 grant and in return, they get one per cent of our profits,” says Lewis, who gave the sweets a teardrop shape. This makes them easy to pick up, empowering the elderly to feed themselves independently.
“After 18 months of development, with the support of a confectionary expert Nick Fretwell, who used to work at Cadbury’s, we are finally ready to launch,” Lewis explains.
Sadly, Grandma Pat died of coronavirus in April, aged 83, but she will live on through the products.
“Her name was Pat Dickinson, so I did a mash up of that and called them Pattinson’s Jelly Drops,” he explains.
“She loved them and it is great to know so many other people will now be able to benefit from something I invented because of her.”
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