Brain Health Week #3: Ways to keep your senior loved one hydrated

brain health week 3 ways to keep your senior loved one hydrated 06.14.21

The human body is composed of about two-thirds water. Water is in our blood, muscle tissue, bone marrow, lower layers of our skin, fatty tissue, and in our stomachs. Water is the body’s lubrication and helps in its movement and function. Water is essential to our existence.

The brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, and even the bones are 31% water. Water helps digest food so it can provide us with energy, it helps transport waste out of the body, and it is important in controlling body temperature.

Dehydration is the result of not having enough water in the body to perform as it was meant to. Dehydration can lead to hospitalization, infection, loss of cognitive function, and even death if not treated immediately. Due to changes in the body during aging, such as a decrease in total body water and a decrease in being able to sense thirst, dehydration can happen quickly in the elderly. Our bodies keep our fluids and electrolytes balanced. In the elderly, their regulation system may no longer function properly on its own, making dehydration more common–and making hydration even more important.

Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias can cause a resident to lose the sensation of being thirsty. Be on the lookout for signs of dehydration in your loved one.

Symptoms of Dehydration

  • Increased falls
  • Confusion. Even someone with cognitive issues can be notably more confused
  • joint pain
  • Edema (swelling of the extremities)
  • Dry mouth
  • Concentrated and /or foul-smelling urine
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Dry skin
  • Dry eyes
  • Headache
  • Constipation
  • Sleepiness
  • Dizziness
  • Pain


Dehydration is preventable. Hydration is crucial to brain health and overall wellbeing. Our bodies are made up of about 2/3 water, it is our bodies’ lubrication and helps with movement and function. It can be difficult to get a loved one to consume enough water throughout the day to keep them hydrated. Diseases like AD can cause changes to taste buds, depth perception, and the ability to recognize when they are thirsty. With the warmer weather ahead, it is critical that your loved one stays well hydrated. Below are possible causes and tips to assist you.

Possible Causes of Dehydration

Loved ones with Alzheimer’s or other dementias are especially at risk for dehydration because…

  • They no longer know when they are thirsty or are unable to verbalize their thirst.
  • Neck hyper or hypo extension makes it difficult to drink. (adaptive equipment will be necessary)
  • They refuse to drink because they think it causes incontinence. Actually, not drinking enough water causes your bladder to contract to remove the concentrated urine, in turn causing urinary frequency and loss of bladder control.
  • They have poor depth perception. Water is clear they cannot tell anything is in the pitcher/glass. Add some fruit or vegetable slices.
  • They are dependent on you to provide them with enough to drink.
  • They no longer have the ability to get the glass to their lips due to the progression of Alzheimer’s, weakness, or extremity trembles. Adaptive cups can assist with this
  • Certain foods and beverages are natural diuretics such as caffeine, citrus, fish, spicy foods, and fruits and vegetables.
  • They may take diuretic medications.
  • The glass used has too small of an opening (provide a nose cup found on the web)


Prevention of Dehydration

  • Provide at least two beverages with meals
  • Offer fluids before and after activities
  • Add sliced fruit or vegetables to water to aid in poor depth perception caused by AD.
  • Provide a glass with a lid so they can take it with them without worries of spilling
  • Flavor water by adding one-third juice
  • Try a straw. If a loved one can no longer hold a glass or their hands tremble, see if a straw allows for increased independence.
  • Use a lighter weight glass for independence
  • Make sure the mouth of the glass is wide enough if your loved one is experiencing hypo neck extension, (try a nose cup, found on the web)
  • Check the temperature. Cold liquids can cause pain due to oral issues.
  • Add honey, lemon, or sugar to the water. AD causes changes to the taste buds
  • Offer other sources of hydration: Jell-O, tea, popsicle, ice cream, smoothie, slushy, mocktails
  • Cue them by wetting their mouth with a straw
  • Make it a social event. Good manners and social graces are long-term memories making it difficult to refuse.
  • Add plenty of antioxidant juices throughout the day
  • Always include a beverage with snacks
  • Offer fluids that are not diuretics. Caffeinated products are more likely to be diuretics
  • Keep a beverage at their bedside for independent consumption
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