As if dementia sufferers don’t have enough quality of life challenges, we can add to the list dehydration. In addition to the other short term memory issues older adults with dementia may not recognize that they are dehydrated … or they simply forget to drink enough water.
We have long known that older adults in general often do not drink enough water, in part because they just don’t feel thirst as acutely as younger people do. Some also worry about incontinence, so they cut back on that risk by taking in less water. Older adults also often are on medications that can deplete their water, and this is especially the case for older adults on some blood pressure medications or antidepressants. Add to this the simple fact that older adults need as much as fifty percent more water daily than their younger counterparts to function optimally, and you get the potential for a thirst epidemic.
Forgetting to hydrate can have real health consequences. As an adult grows older and begins to take in less water, they effectively can amplify the effects of some of the medications they take, increasing their dose without changing their intake. Dehydrated adults are also prone to some infections, particularly urinary tract infections. They also are prone to dizziness, headaches, confusion and difficulty walking.
Enter a British college student named Lewis Hornsby. Hornsby was a design student who noticed that his grandmother who suffered from dementia seemed simply to have little interest in drinking water, and this led to a perpetual dehydration for her. Hornsby came up with a concept he calls “Jelly Drops” that are brightly colored balls contained a bit more than an ounce of flavored water…a hydrating finger food. As a design student, we was very conscious of not making it look like a medicine, hence the bright colors in packaging that could have been suited to a box for chocolates or gummies.
Jelly Drops may not be available where you or your older loved one resides, but that doesn’t mean you can’t engage your loved one with more appealing hydration. Try popsicles or smoothies. Some folk make prefer milkshakes, Ensure or sports drinks or any of the burgeoning number of bottled waters. Maybe add bubbles…just try to avoid carbonated drinks that also add sodium.
Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.