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Care for a Beverage? Hydration and Dementia


Getting enough fluids is vital to brain health. Due to changes in body functions, older adults are more at risk for dehydration.* Low fluid levels can lead to confusion and impaired brain function in older adults. These negative effects are compounded in those with dementia.

When someone has dementia, it can be difficult to recognize the presence of dehydration because:

  • Symptoms of dehydration blend into behavior associated with dementia. Confusion, problems with thinking, difficulty making decisions and using logic, as well as impaired coordination can be typical of both dehydration and many types of dementia. Carefully observe your loved one’s behavior and, if the level of impairment increases, consider whether it might be due to dehydration.
  • The person may not be able to say, “I want a drink.” Many types of dementia involve the deterioration of language abilities. It may be difficult for someone with dementia to express their needs clearly. You may find it helpful to learn more about best practices for communicating with people who have dementia.
  • They might not perceive they are thirsty. We know what “thirsty” feels like in our bodies: Dry mouth and throat are a good early sign. However, people with dementia can lose understanding of their bodily sensations. They may feel discomfort in their mouth and throat but may no longer understand this is thirst or that drinking fluid is the solution. If asked, they may say they do not need a drink. Rather than asking, start offering fluids at intervals that make sense.
  • They report they have just had a beverage but have not. An individual who has dementia involving memory loss may find it difficult accurately report their fluid intake. They may truly believe they had a drink just a few minutes ago when it was actually several hours ago. It may be helpful to keep a written record of fluids, rather than rely on your loved one’s recollection.

Learning and using best care methods like DementiaWise® can help people with dementia maintain adequate hydration. These skills can help you become a better caregiver and help your loved one be more accepting of care.

*Untreated severe dehydration is a medical emergency and can result in seizures, permanent brain damage or death. According to the National Institutes of Health, call 911 if the person:

  • Loses consciousness
  • Has a change in level of alertness with confusion or seizures
  • Has a fever over 102 degrees
  • Shows symptoms of heat stroke (such as rapid pulse or rapid breathing)
  • Does not improve or get worse despite treatment