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Dehydration is a condition in which the body's loss of water far exceeds its fluid intake. We need fluids for our bodies to function normally. On average, a person can live only four days without fluids. A few ways fluids help our bodies are: 1) Regulating our body temperature through sweating, 2) Maintaining an adequate blood pressure, and 3) Eliminating waste from our bodies.

Risk Factors

Dehydration is a serious problem in the elderly and can lead to confusion, illness, and a decreased quality of life. Because of changes that occur as we age, the elderly are much more susceptible.

Risk factors for dehydration include:

  • Acute illnesses such as pneumonia and urinary tract infections
  • Multiple chronic illnesses
  • Fever, diarrhea and vomiting
  • Major surgery
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Certain medications such as water pills, laxatives, and some heart medications
  • Alcohol usage
  • A decreased sense of thirst
  • Retaining less water in our bodies
  • Forgetting to drink
  • Limited access to water due to decreased mobility from a stroke or Parkinson's disease
  • Altered mental because of dementia or the use of sedatives and narcotics

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment of Dehydration

Dehydration is not always easy to recognize and diagnose, since many of the symptoms of dehydration may be caused by other illness. Hospitalization for treatment of dehydration may even occur when symptoms of dehydration are not present.

Symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Decrease in urine output or constipation
  • Confusion
  • Increase in falls or problems with walking
  • Significant weight loss
  • Inability to sweat
  • Dizziness or headaches
  • Dry mouth and tongue (which can also be a normal sign of aging due to medications or illness)
  • Significant drop in blood pressure

Fluids can be replaced by mouth (orally) or through the veins (intravenously), or through a tube in the stomach depending on the resident's condition, and wishes.

In a study of terminally ill persons, few experienced hunger or thirst. In addition, there was no evidence suggesting the tube feeding increased the comfort of persons with dementia.

Dehydration at the end of life may be natural.


Preventing dehydration is our nursing staff's goal. If a resident is thought to be dehydrated, the nursing staff may offer water, liquids and food high in water content. Keep in mind that if a person is found to be dehydrated, it does not mean that the person has not been given adequate fluids.

Some ways dehydration can be prevented is by:

  • Offering fluids and juices
  • Monitoring weight
  • Assessing the resident after any significant change in condition
  • Re-evaluating medications, especially laxatives and diuretics
  • Monitoring changes in mental status

What Can You Do To Help

Tell the nursing staff your loved one's food and beverage preferences and eating routine at home.

Bring in favorite foods and drinks after talking to the dietary department.

Assist your loved one if he ore she drinks better with your help.

Offer your loved one something to drink several times during your visit.

Inform the nursing staff if you see changes in your loved one's mental status.

Provide us with current telephone numbers for family members or responsible parties.

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