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Dehydration risks increase for those living in a care home, particularly if they have dementia

Dehydration can be a serious problem for older people, leading to a range of health problems including urinary tract infections, disability, hospital admissions and even death.

Now a recent joint study carried out by researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and Canberra University in Australia has looked into which health conditions or factors can put people at risk of dehydration.

‘Water is crucial to every bodily action, and maintenance of hydration is essential to life,’ says lead researcher Dr Lee Hooper from UEA. ‘We know that dehydration is difficult to identify. Older people tend not to feel thirsty when they drink too little. On top of that – as our kidneys get older we are less able to concentrate our urine to preserve fluid, so the body’s ability to regulate its fluid balance slowly reduces.

‘Until now, there has been limited and contradictory evidence about which health factors are associated with dehydration in older adults. We wanted to find out whether any particular conditions are associated with dehydration in order to understand its prevalence and pinpoint which individuals are most at risk.’

The researchers looked at the hydration status of 188 over-65s from 56 residential care homes and compared different cognitive, functional and health factors, including whether they were continent, their temperature, weight medication they were taking and whether they had dementia.

They discovered that those with kidney problems, dementia and diabetes were most at risk of dehydration.

‘We found a strong correlation between both poor cognitive function and dehydration,’ said Dr Hooper. ‘But it is quite possible that dehydration is the cause of poor cognitive function, and that the relationship works in a vicious circle.

‘We hope that this research will enable carers to pinpoint which frail older people are most likely to suffer dehydration.’

Whether your loved one with dementia lives at home or in a care home, you can help them to stay well hydrated by providing them with cups and water bottles that are easy to drink from, or setting up reminders for them to have a drink on a regular basis.