Expert tips on keeping the elderly hydrated in the heat
Dehydration can cause serious health problems in the elderly
One in five older people in care homes are not drinking enough fluids
A person with dementia is more likely to become dehydrated
Lack of hydration can cause various health problems in the elderly which can become more prevalent in warmer weather. Medications can impact on dehydration with some having a diuretic effect - increasing visits to the bathroom and other medications causing increased sweat. Thirst can decrease with age, along with kidney function, making it harder for the body to conserve fluid.
A person with dementia can very easily become dehydrated too. It could be they are unable to recognise they are thirsty, or can no longer communicate the fact they are thirsty. They might simply forget to drink, or in the latter stages of dementia, they might find it hard to swallow, as the brain struggles to send the correct signals to the mouth and throat.
Nutrition experts recommend that we drink at least eight glasses of water a day – more in hot weather but according to the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM), one in five older people living in care homes do not drink enough fluid, with a quarter of people in care homes not getting enough to drink. Research also indicates that a person with dementia is more likely to be dehydrated.
Dehydration can become serious very quickly, resulting in symptoms such as confusion, headaches, constipation or a urinary tract infection, all of which can exacerbate the symptoms of dementia. ‘Spotting the possible signs of dehydration swiftly can avoid things becoming more serious, such as the person developing a urinary tract infection which may result in a hospital stay that could have been avoided,’ says SweetTree founder Barry Sweetbaum. ‘It’s essential to encourage the person to stay hydrated to prevent unnecessary health problems from occurring.’
Symptoms of dehydration can include:
- Dark-coloured urine (it should be a pale straw colour)
- Dizziness / lightheadedness (which of course can increase the risk of falls)
- A dry mouth, lips or eyes
- Loss of strength and stamina
SweetTree’s top tips to help keep the elderly hydrated in the heat:
• Keep water handy – Leave a jug of water by the bed or next to the person’s favourite chair so they don’t have to go to the kitchen every time they want a drink.
• Make drinking easy for the person – Provide drinks in easy-to-hold, non-spill beakers, to reduce the change of spillage. An occupational therapist can advise you on the best options.
• Make water more interesting – Add mint leaves or citrus slices such as orange, lemon or lime to plain water, to make it more flavoursome and appealing.
• Offer alternatives to plain water –herbal teas, squash, juices and even ice lollies will all aid hydration.
• Prompt the individual to keep drinking – people with dementia may forget to drink, so leave reminders around the house such as post-it notes or set alarms. Instructions on how to make tea and coffee near the kettle may also help.
• Remember foods contain water – If the individual doesn’t like drinking water, offer foods with a high-water content, such as soup, melon, berries and grapes (cut lengthways into halves to prevent choking).
• Make the drink visible – eyesight can be affected by dementia and can deteriorate with age. Water may be difficult to see in a transparent vessel so offer a straw or add squash to the drink to contrast the colour. Also prompt the person to drink
SweetTree Home Care Services is an award-winning business providing the highest quality care and support for individuals in the home. With a compassionate, highly trained team of experienced carers, SweetTree delivers outstanding domiciliary care spanning a wide range of needs from basic through to more complex requirements. Areas of expertise include dementia care, learning disabilities, acquired brain injuries, neurological conditions and end-of-life support. The company has been twice recognised in the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work for in the UK and an Investor’s In People Gold Award Winner. For more information, visit http://www.sweettree.co.uk