Those living with dementia can experience dehydration if they're unable to communicate or recognise that they're thirsty or if they forget to drink. Our bodies are made up of roughly 60% of water, which is needed for temperature regulation, waste excretion, transport of oxygen and nutrients to the brain and the other organs. Decreased water levels can prevent the clearance of toxins leading to their build-up in the brain. Therefore, keeping your body hydrated adequately is vital for maintaining intact cognitive function.
Older age as a risk factor for dehydration
Physiological changes occurring during the ageing process make the elderly more susceptible to dehydration. Older people have reduced sensation of thirst due to the lower production and sensitivity to the antidiuretic hormone, which tells the kidneys how much water should be preserved. That's why older adults might not be able to tell when they're not drinking enough water. Additionally, the kidneys become less efficient at conserving water and concentrating the urine, so more water is excreted. Besides, as we age, the total body water reduces due to body composition changes, and there are fewer water reserves available. Older people may also be taking medications such as diuretics lowering blood pressure, which increase the amount of water and salt expelled from the body as urine. Dehydration can be further accelerated by Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.
Helping the elderly to stay hydrated
There are many ways to help prevent dehydration in the elderly. The general recommendation of daily water intake to keep your brain and body healthy is around 2 litres/ day or 6-8 glasses of fluid for healthy adults. Encouraging older adults to drink may be challenging, but here are some tips that may help with maintaining adequate hydration:
Make sure that there is a readily available wide range of drinks at the right temperature around the person with memory loss
Try offering a drink to the older adult rather than asking if they need one
Experiment with different beverages such as iced tea, smoothies, milkshakes or squashes
Use visual aids as reminders
Improve the flavour of the water by adding a slice or squeeze of lemon
Encourage eating foods with high liquid content (fruits, gravy, yoghurt)
Limit the amount of alcohol the person drinks
Preserve water content by strength exercises that build muscle mass
Make the access to the bathroom easier if the individual is worried about not making it to the toilet in time
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