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Dehydration Danger

Dehydration is a common but potentially serious problem in older people.

Why is dehydration important?

Older people are particularly vulnerable to dehydration. It is thought that ageing causes a reduced sensation of thirst and this might be further aggravated by other diseases such as dementia, stroke, diabetes or kidney disease,

In an older person dehydration can be dangerous, particularly if it is complicated by an acute illness like gastroenteritis or a fever - anything which causes more fluid loss than usual.

Why is it dangerous?

Older people are not just more prone to dehydration, they are also more vulnerable to its effects. Even mild dehydration can cause sleepiness, weakness, dizziness or low blood pressure and increase the risk of a fall. Inadequate fluid intake can also cause serious kidney damage.

What can you do?

It is important to be alert to the dangers of dehydration and consider when and whether your parent needs to drink more. You can help them drink more by encouraging them and ensuring they have plenty fluids within easy reach. If this proves difficult you can encourage “wet” foods such as jelly, custard, soup or pureed fruit.

How can you tell if they are drinking enough?

Monitoring fluid intake is probably the best guide. Signs of advanced dehydration include dryness of the mouth, lips and tongue, sunken eyes, dry inelastic skin, drowsiness, dizziness or confusion. It might also be indicated by a reduced and more concentrated urine output. However, DO NOT wait for these signs to occur – and DO NOT delay asking for medical advice. If you are at all concerned you should seek medical help immediately.

Beware medication and dehydration

If your parent becomes unwell and is at risk of becoming dehydrated you can ask their GP whether they need to make any adjustments to their regular medicines. Some medication, or combinations of medicines, can be especially problematic – even dangerous - in the face of poor fluid intake. Their GP will understand the risks and can advise you about any temporary alterations.

You should never make any changes to regular medicines without seeking medical advice but it is well worth checking whether changes are recommended.

Similarly you should check (either with the GP or pharmacist) whether over the counter medicines like ibuprofen will be safe to take.

Does your parent have or need a sick day rule plan?

Increasingly, patients taking certain medicines are being given Sick Day Rule plans. These plans give advice about how to manage medicines temporarily during illness which can result in dehydration (eg diarrhoea, vomiting or fever).

If your parent has not been given such a card you can check with their GP whether this is something they could benefit from.

See NHS England sick day rules relating to Type 2 diabetes and coronavirus illness here

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September 2020

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