Edible Water to Combat Dehydration in Dementia

Jelly Drops pic from Helen Hamlyn Design Award Website

It’s the end of August and it’s almost Labor Day weekend. Many of us celebrate the holiday with barbecues, pool parties, and picnics in the park, enjoying the last hurrah of 90-degree weather. Unfortunately, for people with dementia, the warmer weather can cause discomfort, dehydration, and distress.

Dehydration and Dementia

Dehydration is a common challenge for older people, especially those with dementia. Here’s why:

• Memory problems often make it easy to forget to drink enough water;
• For many with dementia, the part of the brain that recognizes you’re dehydrated and sends a message to let you know you’re thirsty doesn’t always work properly;
• Some medications and dementia-related illnesses can also make dehydration worse;
• Dementia patients may forget where to find water, even if there’s a cup of it on the nightstand, inches away from them;
• Dementia patients 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.

Jelly Drops to Keep Seniors Hydrated

A young British man named Lewis Hornby noticed that his grandmother, who suffers from dementia, was not getting enough fluids to drink. He decided to invent something that would make it easier for her to get the fluids she needs. He spent a week living in a dementia care home, observed his grandmother and others, and consulted with a dementia psychologist to better understand the behaviors of those with the disease. He then used sensory depriving and virtual reality tools to experience the difference in perception people with dementia feel. He returned to the care home several times to test the prototypes of his project, all in an effort to do something to help.

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% water with gelling agents and electrolytes to aid in hydration.

By offering residents colorful treats from a box, Hornby found that even people that would usually ignore him and turn down other types of foods and drinks, became animated and would excitedly take many. In fact, when first offered, Hornby’s grandma ate 7 Jelly Drops in 10 minutes–the equivalent of a cup full of water. This was something that would typically take hours and require much more assistance for her.

Hornby carefully thought through the packaging of his Jelly Drops as well. The clear plastic box allows patients to see the goodies inside without lifting the lid, making the Jelly Drops easier to find if misplaced and easier to remember to eat. There’s also a special handle on one corner so that users can open the lid without putting down the box. Then a locking hinge holds the lid in its upright position, freeing a hand to eat with. This is particularly important since many dementia patients struggle to plan and execute sequences of actions.

The Jelly Drops won Hornby the Helen Hamlyn Design Award, Snowdon Award for Disability, and the Dyson School of Design Engineering DESIRE Award for Social Impact. Jelly Drops are currently being trialed in other care homes in the UK, and Hornby hopes to do more research and begin production of his drops soon. Hopefully this amazing invention will help thousands of dementia patients get the hydration they need to stay comfortable, healthy, happy, and alive—and enjoy it at the same time!

How Do You Know if a Loved One is Dehydrated?

Do you have a loved one who suffers from dementia, who you fear may not consume enough liquids? There are some things to look out for that may indicate that a person is dehydrated. If you spot any of the following, encourage the person to drink water immediately and seek medical help if needed. If the condition worsens or doesn’t improve, call 911 or go straight to the hospital.

• Increased confusion (compared to typical dementia symptoms);
• Dark and strong-smelling urine;
• Dry mouth, lips and eyes;
• Headaches or dizziness;
• Feeling tired;
• Urinating fewer than 4 times a day.

Be Proactive About Hydration

Hopefully, Jelly Drops will be available soon worldwide. Until then, if you have a loved one with dementia, here are some simple but effective ways of helping to prevent dehydration:

1. Leave glasses or jugs of water within easy reach. This is especially important for people with limited mobility who aren’t able to get up and get themselves a drink.
2. Make drinking easier. Have a clear glass so the person can see what’s inside (this may not work so well with water) or a brightly colored plastic cup to draw attention. Make sure the glass is within the line of sight and within reach.
3. Make drinking a social occasion. Have a cup of tea, water, or flavored water with the person and make sure they’re drinking during mealtimes.
4. Leave reminders. Make sure someone with dementia remembers to stay hydrated by leaving notes out for them or putting up notices around the house. You could also set up a phone reminder or set an alarm clock.
5. Provide high water content foods. Supplement water and other drinks with foods that are high in fluids. Some good options include Jello, ice cream, soup, and high water-content fruit such as watermelon.

What to Do if You or a Loved One Has Dementia

Have you or a loved one been diagnosed with dementia? At the Farr Law Firm, we are an elder law and estate planning firm with offices in Fairfax, Virginia; Fredericksburg, Virginia; Rockville, Maryland; and Washington, DC. We are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from dementia and their loved ones. We help protect your assets while maintaining your dignity and quality of life by enabling eligibility for important government benefits — primarily Medicaid and Veterans Aid and Attendance. If and when you or a family member receives a diagnosis of any type of dementia, please call us as soon as possible to make an appointment for a no-cost initial consultation:

Fairfax Elder Law and Estate Planning: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law and Estate Planning: 540-479-1435
Rockville Elder Law and Estate Planning: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Law and Estate Planning: 202-587-2797

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