Older people in care homes with dementia, diabetes and kidney problems are at most risk of dehydration, according to UK researchers.
New research, published today in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, has revealed the conditions associated with dehydration.
The study authors said they hoped their findings would help carers identify which older people in care homes could be most at risk of dehydration.
The thirst sensation diminishes with age
Lead researcher Dr Lee Hooper, from the University of East Anglia, said: “We know that dehydration is difficult to identify – but it can lead to increased risk of hospital admission, urinary tract infections, disability and even death.
“Until now, there has been limited and contradictory evidence about which health factors are associated with dehydration in older adults,” he said.
He added: “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 research took place across 56 residential care homes and involved 188 over 65s.
Hydration status was determined by a serum osmolality blood test and classified as normally hydrated, impeding dehydration, and dehydrated.
“We hope this research will enable carers to pinpoint which older people are most likely to suffer dehydration”
The researchers then compared results with a wide range of 67 different cognitive, functional and health factors.
The results suggested that one in every five older people living in a care home has dehydration.
It found older people with kidney problems, dementia and diabetes were at most risk of dehydration.
Factors including taking diuretic medication, being male, and bladder incontinence were also found to be associated with dehydration.
However, thirst was not associated with hydration status, said the researchers.
“Drinking must instead be regulated by habit and routine which can be difficult for people with dementia,” said Dr Hooper.
“We found a strong correlation between both poor cognitive function and dehydration,” he said. “But it is quite possible that dehydration is the cause of poor cognitive function, and that the relationship works in a vicious circle.”
He added: “We hope that this research will enable carers to pinpoint which frail older people are most likely to suffer dehydration.”