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Dementia & Dehydration Hero

Dementia & Dehydration

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Did you know that 75% of all Americans are chronically dehydrated? This staggering statistic includes everyone from young children thru older adults. Yet ironically dehydration is easily preventable. 

Keep in mind that prolonged, untreated chronic dehydration in older adults can actually present ‘Dementia-like’ symptoms including, confusion, forgetfulness, irritability and fatigue. However, this type of serious dehydration is considered a ‘reversible’ Dementia because the symptoms observed that mimic Dementia disappear, once the elder is properly hydrated. 

Defining Dehydration

The Mayo clinic describes it this way: Dehydration occurs when you use or lose more fluid than you take in and your body doesn’t have enough water and other fluids to carry out its normal functions. 

The Importance of Water

Water is essential for life and accounts for approximately 60% of an adult’s body weight. It plays the critical role of carrying nutrients between our major organs and eliminating waste products, while regulating body temperature and lubricating our joints. Dehydration triggers the body’s thirst response. So when you feel thirsty, dehydration is already setting in.

There are a variety of reasons why a person becomes dehydrated. In older adults, water levels naturally decrease with age. Which, makes it much more important that we encourage a robust hydration schedule for those in our care. And, especially critical for those with Dementia.  

Consider this; constipation is a symptom of even mild dehydration. For someone with an actual Dementia diagnosis, constipation is also a common occurrence. Therefore when someone with Dementia is unable to self-identify their constipation issue yet experiences the discomfort and tummy-twinges that are common, they’ll become uncomfortable. This discomfort may cause them to refuse food and/or be resistant to care. Thus, creating caregiving challenges which can quickly spiral into larger care issues. 

Maintaining a hydration schedule is a holistic intervention that has great impact on overall wellness. We certainly don’t want those with a diagnosed Dementia which by definition, impacts cognitive capabilities and includes confusion, to additionally suffer from dehydration. As noted, symptoms of dehydration also negatively impact cognition and increases confusion therefore, the person experiences unnecessary added issues that can be easily avoided by remaining properly hydrated. 

Get Creative! 

Caregivers are encouraged to be resourceful when introducing this heightened level of hydration. Plain water can be turned into a more flavorful experience by adding various options that impact overall wellness. 

Consider making a pitcher of water infused with basil and cucumbers. It’s fabulously refreshing and the benefits are far reaching.

The benefits of basil are vast including; aides in digestion, strong anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, rich in magnesium and vitamins K, A and C. Meanwhile, cucumber is high in fiber (good for minimizing constipation) rich in potassium, magnesium and vitamin B. 

TO MAKE:  add two cups of ice cubes to a pitcher. Drop in 3-5 whole basil leaves and 2-4 medium cut cucumber slices. Fill pitcher with water and place in refrigerator to let the flavors infuse for a couple of hours before serving. More ice and water can be added when pitcher runs low.  Good for 2-3 days, refrigerated. 

Another refreshing alternative to plain water that’s packed with added value is the lemon and mint infused option.  Lemons are high in fiber and vitamin C and support digestive health. While mint also aides in digestion and improves dental health. Mint has anesthetic and anti-inflammatory qualities that are known to effectively treat dizziness, nausea and headaches. 

TO MAKE: add two cups of ice cubes to a pitcher, squeeze in the juice of 2 lemons. Optional: drop in 1-2 slices of the squeezed lemon peel. Add several mint leaves. Fill pitcher with water and place in refrigerator to let the flavors infuse before serving. More ice and water can be added when pitcher runs low. Good for 2-3 days refrigerated.

Make it Fun! Instead of always serving water in a glass; consider using vibrant colored re-usable water bottles with built in straws (easier for aging lips to sip). These bottles can be placed on a side table next to their favorite chair for easy-access sipping or taken on-the-go, when away from home. 

Alternative Options – smoothies, popsicles, soups and melons are other sources of hydration for those in your care. 

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  • Written by Ellen Belk

    Ellen Belk, CDP is a ‘Silver’ Living Strategist and Founder of Keep In Mind, a consulting company offering a suite of services to the long term living industry and product developers in the aging space. A recognized Dementia expert specializing in holistic solutions, Belk’s four-pillar philosophy recognizes Communication, Environment, Nutrition and Engagement as a first-line of defense for quality care. She’s the inventor of Memory Magz® which are magazine-style picture publications for those with Dementia. And the author of The 360 System.™ This guide for professionals is based on her copy written TEAM approach for Championship Level Operations and Outcomes in Long Term Living.

    When she finds free time, Belk can be found outdoors, hiking, biking or nurturing her garden. She and her husband Dan live in South Carolina.

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