Dehydration can be an issue for the elderly. According to research conducted at the University of East Anglia, one in five people living in care homes are not drinking enough fluid. Even mild dehydration can increase the risk of falls, confusion, pressure ulcers and urinary tract infections. It’s also widely known that elder people may struggle to consume a balanced diet as appetite can decrease with age.

Staying hydrated helps to promote wellbeing, concentration and mental focus and also helps to prevent illness. It can be harder to stay hydrated as we get older. As we age, the water content in our bodies decreases, along with our thirst. According to the British Nutrition Foundation, older people are vulnerable to dehydration, partly because age changes result in a reduced sensation of thirst. Our kidneys assist with fluid regulation but their function deteriorates as we age, which means the body’s normal response to dehydration may be impaired.

Here are some possible signs of dehydration to watch for when caring for an elderly person:

  • Confusion – The person may seem confused and disorientated as well as suffering from dizziness, problems with balance and difficulty walking
  • Skin that won’t bounce back – gently lift the skin on the back of the person’s hand up and hold it for a few seconds, then let go. If it doesn’t bounce back within seconds, it’s a sign of dehydration
  • Trouble going to the toilet – if the person isn’t urinating as much as usual, they could be dehydrated. Urine should be a pale colour.

Encourage the person to sip water at regular intervals and if they have mobility problems, make sure they always have access to water or other hydrating drinks like fruit juice.

A person with dementia may need you to prompt them when to drink – they may forget they’ve not had anything to drink, so make sure you keep encouraging them to drink. If the person doesn’t lie to drink much, then you can offer them smoothies and tea, and foods with high water content such as vegetables, fruit and soups.