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Dementia ordeal inspires wife to devise care aids

By WANG KEJU/ZHOU LIHUA | China Daily | Updated: 2018-10-03 08:17

Fan Chengfen, 71, holds the hand of her husband, 76-year-old Wang Qixiang, as they play a game in Wuhan, Hubei province, on Sept 7. [Photo by XIAO XI/FOR CHINA DAILY]

They say necessity is the mother of invention. But perhaps that should be grandmother.

Fan Chengfen, 71, has come up with at least 10 product ideas to make life easier in the 15 years she has cared for her husband, who has Alzheimer's disease, in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province.

Two of them-a smart diaper and a constraint glove-have even been patented.

"People with experience in caring for a senior person with dementia will know it's not easy," said Fan, whose husband, Wang Qixiang, is 76. "But thanks to the difficulties I've encountered in the past decade or so, I've been motivated to invent products that can make life more convenient for caregivers."

Fan and Wang, who have two daughters, lived a normal life until about 2003, when Wang began losing his way home and became forgetful. Things gradually worsened to the point where he could not remember his address or his children's names.

Concerned, Fan took her husband to the hospital for a checkup. He was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia, and the family was told he probably had only five years to live.

Fan was shocked, but she was determined to make the most of his remaining years and provide him with the best possible comfort.

Wang outlasted the doctor's five-year prognosis, but by 2010 his condition had severely deteriorated.

"Aphasia, incontinence, confusion, it all started. If I left him alone for even a minute, the room would be a complete mess," Fan said. "It became harder and harder to care for him. Now when I try to change his wet clothes he pushes me away so hard. It's like fighting a war."

Initially, she had asked one of her daughters to help her buy nursing products online. Yet she quickly found out such products have defects.

So she began to adapt and transform the products to suit her needs. As she had worked with mechanical equipment at a factory earlier in her life, Fan was not afraid to get hands on. She bought various products, such as constraint gloves and wireless alarms, to explore their shortcomings and devise ways to improve on them.

"I just want my husband to live a comfortable, clean and decent life," she said.

Wang's incontinence means he has to wear an adult diaper, but they are far from comfortable, especially when worn for an extended time.

At first, Fan installed a sensor in his diapers that triggered an alarm when the humidity reached a certain level, so she would know when it needed replacing. But she found the alarm was too loud and would wake Wang when he slept.

After much trial and error, she eventually came up with "smart nursing pants". The diaper design funnels urine into a plastic bottle tied to the wearer's calf and is fitted with a sensor that connects with a portable wireless receiver, which alerts the caregiver when the wearer passes a stool.

The invention has saved time and energy-so she carried on and designed more new products, including a T-shirt with detachable sleeves and a constraint glove, which can be fixed to the hands of a dementia patient to prevent them hurting themselves or others.

Fan was invited to share her designs at a training class for local nurses.

"If these things can help other people in need, I'm more than willing to share them," she said. "I want to help more people."

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