Preventing Dehydration in Elderly People
Tuesday, 04th October 2016
Water is essential to health and elderly people are particularly vulnerable to becoming dehydrated. This can have serious consequences for elderly people living in residential care or in their own homes including increased hospital admissions and mortality. It is therefore extremely important that family members and carers understand the risks of dehydration, can recognise early signs of dehydration and act upon these quickly.
Risk Factors of Dehydration for Elderly People
About 80% of our typical water intake comes from drinks, with the remaining 20% coming from food. Elderly people can frequently have a lower appetite or even receive poor nutrition, both of which mean they are missing out on this key component of fluid intake.
Elderly people can also experience a reduced sensation of thirst, something that is particularly prevalent amongst people with a stroke or who are living with Alzheimer’s disease.
Age-related changes are also key factors when it comes to managing hydration levels. Kidney function deteriorates with age and this is key to regulating fluids in the body. Changing hormone levels also impact upon the body’s water balance. Other age-related causes of dehydration may include:
- cognitive impairment
- changes in functional ability
- medication such as laxatives, diuretics or hypnotics
- stress arising from other factors
Consequences of Dehydration
Falls in old age can have major implications including fractures, broken hips and ultimately hospital admissions. Dehydration is seen as a key risk factor in falls since it can lead to a deterioration in mental state, dizziness and fainting.
Dehydration reduces padding over bony points which significantly increases the risk of pressure soars / ulcers. Elderly people who are well hydrated also experience faster ulcer healing.
Inadequate fluid intake is a major cause of chronic constipation amongst elderly people, particularly common amongst those living in institutional environments (care homes, nursing homes or hospitals).
UTIs and Kidney Injuries
Keeping a healthy level of hydration is important in preventing urinary tract infections (UTIs) and keeping kidneys healthy. Older people who are dehydrated are at much greater risk of developing a UTI, kidney stones or an acute kidney injury.
Mental performance is significantly impacted by dehydration. People who are dehydrated will feel more tired and mental functions can be affected such as concentration, memory, attention and reaction time.
Signs of Dehydration
An obvious sign that your elderly loved one is becoming dehydrated would be that their fluid intake is low. However, other common signs of dehydration include:
- Drop in blood pressure or rise in pulse
- Dizziness, fatigue, clumsiness or falling
- Dry skin, mouth, chapped lips or loss of elasticity in the skin
- Dry and / or sunken eyes
- Dark urine / urine with strong odour, painful urination or decreased urine output
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty in swallowing
Top Tips to Prevent Dehydration
If you are a relative or carer of an elderly person, ensuring that they are always sufficiently hydrated is hugely important. In addition to being able to recognise when somebody is dehydrated, some tips to help good fluid intake are:
- Regularly encourage fluids and always have fluids readily available and within reach
- Offer choices, including different types of drinks and different temperatues that they like
- Rather than ecouraging large drinks, offer small amounts of fluid frequently
- In hot weather consider substitutes for liquids (e.g. ice lollies)
- Offer a full cup of fluid with medicines
- Be aware of swallowing issues and how to help with these, which may include getting advice from a Speech and Language Therapist
- Be prepared to adjust consistency of fluids as needed
- Try to explain that decreasing fluid intake does not decrease incontinence
- Encourage healthy, fluid rich foods such as fruit, vegetables and soups