Complications of Dehydration & Dementia

July 11, 2024
April 11, 2022
Posted by
Bre'anna Wilson
April 11, 2022
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Dehydration is a pretty big deal for people living with dementia, but really it's a huge issue for everyone. In America, about 75% of people are chronically dehydrated and about ½ a million older people around the world are hospitalized with dehydration every year. So, it's pretty fair to say most older adults are somewhat dehydrated most of the time. Then as people age, the risk for dehydration increases. Why is this? Well for one, many older adults are on more medications, many of which can cause water loss and then, I'm guilty of this, but they'll also start limiting their fluid intake so that they don't have to go to the bathroom as much or so they can decrease the chances of them having an accident. I myself drive quite a bit for a living and so I'm super guilty of limiting my fluid intake and I'm not the biggest fan of using public bathrooms, so I basically set myself up for failure everyday and I've personally had to go to the hospital for dehydration as well, so don't be like Bre'anna, okay?

Now, most of us are already sucking it up pretty bad when it comes to staying hydrated, but what happens when we add dementia in the mix? Well for one the ability to sense or recognize hunger and thirst becomes impaired. It may be difficult for your partner to know exactly when they are hungry or thirsty and even if they do feel the sensations they may not be able to associate it with the need for water or food. They also may not be able to remember the last time that they actually had something to drink. When we get into the moderate to severe stages of dementia, they may forget the steps and mechanics involved in getting their own drink or where the cups or drinks are even located, they may not recognize the purpose of a cup or drink and what to do with it, they may have difficulty manipulating, holding, and positioning a cup even if they do, they may also have difficulty swallowing and therefore create a negative association and try to avoid things that cause them discomfort or make them choke, they may have mobility issues and can't get their own drink and may not be able to effectively communicate that they are thirsty or want a drink. It could be any combination of these things and even more factors that I didn't mention.  

So what's the problem with this, why is it so important that your partner stays hydrated? Well we know that water not only the makes up a large percent of our body, but also alllll of the cells in our body including the brain cells rely on water to carry out essential bodily functions. So of course, if our cells aren't getting enough water, things can get out of whack.  

So the 5 big issues are falls, constipation, infections, kidney failure, and unfortunately death. Of course there's also other issues like decreased cognition which makes cognitive performance more difficult especially in those living with dementia, increased depression, issues with high blood pressure which are also no good. So, the point is our body NEEDS water to survive and function properly.

So let's discuss some of the signs of dehydration:

  • Dryness (dry eyes, nose, mouth and tongue, skin)
  • Urinating less often or in smaller amounts than usual
  • Dark urine
  • Strong smelling urine
  • Elevated heart rate > 100 bpm (if that's not typical for your partner)
  • Increased weakness
  • Increased confusion
  • Changesin mood
  • Increased difficulty with speech
  • Fatigue and sleepiness
  • Weight loss

With dementia your first signs are typically going to increased confusion or a change in their usual behavior...Now, keep in mind that the symptoms mentioned can also be indicative of other things like an infection or something or they can be dehydrated and also have an infection as there is an increased risk for UTIs with dehydration.

Hopefully, this blog helps you understand a little bit better why dehydration is such a big deal for people living with dementia. In a future blog, I will outline what you can do to help keep your partner hydrated.

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