People with dementia are more susceptible to dehydration for a number of reasons. For one, if the person living with dementia is an older adult, they naturally have less water reserves in their body, which makes it easier for them to get dehydrated. Also, because of issues with memory loss, decreased ability to initiate tasks independently, and impaired thirst signals from the brain, the person may not remember to drink regularly. The person may even have difficulty drinking if they are at a stage where their swallowing is impaired. When a person has difficulty swallowing you may notice they start avoiding things that have caused them problems in the past. Some people with dementia are also on medications that make them more likely to urinate and therefore leave them dehydrated as well. And, the list goes on..
Now, dehydration is a big deal because EVERY cell and organ in the human body depends on water to function properly and do it's drop.
Water helps us to be able to:
- regulate blood pressure
- digest food properly
- flush waste out our body
- lubricate our joints
- keep our skin healthy
- keep our brain functioning at full capacity
and so much more...
The brain is very sensitive to dehydration. In fact, studies show that a person only needs to be 1% dehydrated to experience a 5% decrease in cognitive function. This can explain much of the changing symptoms we see in our partners, especially during the summer months. You may notice, increased confusion, decreased attention span, worsening short-term memory, increased anxiety and/or depression. So, yeah — it's a pretty big deal.
So, what are some ways we can help keep our partner hydrated?
- Make sure, water is always out and available for the person to access: If they are relatively independent, you can leave a pitcher of water or hydrating drink out for example with a cup nearby and sign that says "Please help yourself to a glass of water." If they need more assist you can keep water near them in a cup with their name on it so they know it's theirs. Just make sure you put it in their line of sight, let them know it's there, and provide a cup that your partner can easily drink out of.
- Invite your partner to have a drink with you: Sometimes people living with dementia have difficulty initiating tasks independently and so they may require an external cue to drink, such as their care partner offering them a drink (which can be done in a variety of creative ways) or their care partner having a drink in front of them, which may then trigger them to want to drink too.
- Provide hydrating drinks your partner likes: Unfortunately, not everyone likes water, because the taste isn't as satisfying. You can try adding flavor drink packets, making a smoothie with hydrating fruits and vegetables such as strawberries, pineapples, watermelon, blueberries, and spinach. If your partner likes milk, there's some evidence that milk can be even more hydrating than water. You can even try some soothing non-caffeinated herbal teas. So, just experiment with some options, but definitely try to stay away from alcoholic beverages and caffeinated drinks like soda, coffee, and some teas, as these can be dehydrating.
- Offer a fresh bowl of hydrating fruits: Strawberries, watermelon, pineapples, blueberries, oranges, melons, etc.
- Offer a hydrating, refreshing salad: Iceberg lettuce, spinach, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, etc.
These are just a few ideas to help keep your partner hydrated throughout the year, but especially during the hot summer months.
To learn more about this topic, check out another blog post we did on dehydration & dementia here.