Hydration in Care Homes

elderly woman hydration

Given the rising temperatures that we are experiencing in British summers, hydration has never felt more important, and as residents in long-term care are at increased risk of dehydration, we felt it pertinent to explore this issue and how caterers can make a real difference to residents’ quality of life through good hydration.

What are the risk factors?

Elderly residents in care homes with poor mobility and dementia are some of the highest risk individuals for dehydration. That’s because as we get older, our thirst reflex naturally declines which means that thirst is no longer a reliable indicator for dehydration. Added to this, for those who suffer with a cognitive impairment such as dementia or stroke, memory issues may play a part in either remembering to drink or even how to drink. Further, reduced mobility and dexterity may make it harder for some older people to prepare a drink for themselves. These older people will require much more support with fluid intake.

Other medical concerns to consider which may exacerbate dehydration include declining kidney function with age, which can lead to hormonal imbalance in our response to fluid regulation. Plus, side effects of common medications such as diuretics and laxatives can include dehydration.

Added to this, many older people complain of needing to go to the toilet multiple times overnight which deters them from drinking past a certain point in the day.

This is where excellent care home staff and caterers come in to identify risk factors for dehydration, and come up with ways to tackle them.

Signs and symptoms:

Symptoms of dehydration can vary from tiredness and headaches to poor concentration and slow reaction times. Typical warning signs include:

  • Increased confusion
  • Dry mouth and lips
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness/falls
  • Dark, smelly urine

Health risks of dehydration:

 Symptoms are linked to reduced blood pressure as a result of dehydration which in older adults can translate to weakness, dizziness and increased risk of falls. Constipation and urinary tract infections are also common in those with a low fluid intake.

Dehydration can also cause more serious outcomes such as increased risk of pressure sores and even increased mortality, especially in stroke patients.

elderly women drinking tea medium

How can care home caterers support in preventing dehydration?

Caterers are key players when it comes to supporting the team to tackle dehydration in your residents. Whilst the nursing staff must focus on prompting and supporting individuals with fluid intake, caterers can get creative with interesting ways to optimise fluid intake. Here are some ideas:

  • Include a daily ‘happy hour’ with different juices and mocktails to encourage fluid intake
  • Add a symbol to your menu for high fluid content meals, snacks and puddings such as jelly, yoghurt, soups and stews which can be encouraged by staff
  • Make ice lollies from orange or apple juice for hot days
  • Ensure that fresh, cool drinking water is available at all times and topped up throughout the day
  • Offer a variety of comforting hot drinks in the evenings
  • Offer smoothies and milkshakes as alternatives at mid-morning or mid-afternoon tea -times
  • Seek further training from your employer around hydration and nutrition if you are interested (allmanhall can support with this)
  • Put this Healthy Hydration poster by the British Nutrition Foundation up in your care home to raise awareness.

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