Dehydration – a common problem for the elderly
Dehydration is a common problem for older adults in the UK. In fact, acute kidney injury (which is caused by dehydration) represents 20% of acute admissions in the UK. And care home residents are more than 5 times as likely to be admitted to hospital dehydrated. This could be due to a variety of reasons, including a higher percentage of care home residents living with dementia.
For National Nutrition and Hydration Week 2019, we thought we’d delve into the topic a little deeper, including how to spot dehydration, how to treat it, and how you can help prevent it.
Why are the elderly more prone to becoming dehydrated?
As we get older, our kidneys become less efficient. The kidneys are responsible for producing a hormone that stimulates a sense of thirst. And because the kidneys are less effective at producing this hormone, older people tend to have a reduced sensation of thirst.
Drinking less fluid can result in dehydration – particularly in hot weather.
Older people are also are more likely to have a chronic medical condition that changes normal body responses to heat.
Consequences of dehydration
Dehydration can be very dangerous. Complications such as dizziness and low blood pressure can lead to falls. Dehydration also affects memory, concentration and reaction time. In severe cases, dehydration can cause kidney injury, cardiac problems and blood clots.
What are dehydration symptoms in the elderly?
Symptoms of dehydration in the elderly include:
- dryness of the mouth, lips and tongue
- sunken eyes
- dry inelastic skin
- drowsiness, confusion or disorientation
- dizziness and low blood pressure
Dehydration can be treated by simply increasing the dehydrated person’s fluid intake. However, this can be trickier than it sounds. If you’re caring for someone who is resistant to drinking water, there are a few strategies you can try:
- Share a (decaf) hot drink with them in a social setting. Having a chat over a cup of coffee or tea can be more inviting and feel familiar.
- Make sure they drink with their meals
- Tempt them with foodstuffs which contain a high water content. Why not try soups, ice creams, jellies or water-rich fruits (like oranges or strawberries)? You could also try handmade fruit ice lollies.
Apart from simply not fancying a drink, there could be other reasons an older person if taking on less liquid. Are they are struggling to drink from normal cups?
Would they be more likely to drink if they had an easy-to-grip cup? Some mugs have internal cones which make drinking easier (because you don’t have to tip your head back as far). Some also have non-drip spouted lids which operate by suction, which reduces the risk of choking.
And for slow drinkers, thermally-insulated mugs can help keep hot drinks hotter for longer, and cold drinks colder for longer. This means the person can take their time and enjoy a drink that stays appealing.
To get more information on mugs that can help aid drinking, click here.
Is the person worried about urinary incontinence?
Although it may sound logical that drinking less would reduce leaks, drinking less reduces the bladder’s capacity and can actually make urinary incontinence worse. Try to reassure them that their urinary incontinence isn’t posing a problem for anyone. If it still worries them, try to explain than taking on the correct amount of fluid (six to eight glasses a day) could help. But try to avoid caffeinated drinks – decaf tea and coffee is fine.