My mom is in the early stages of dementia. One struggle I’m having is keeping her hydrated. As we head into summer, I’m worried she’ll end up sick. Some days she’ll drink water easily, but other times her glass will sit untouched all day. I just can’t figure it out.
Do you have any suggestions?
Chris in Traverse City, MI
Preventing Dehydration in a Senior with Dementia
You aren’t alone in this struggle! It’s fairly common in people with all types of dementia. You are correct to want to address it. As little as a two percent loss in body fluid can lead to mild dehydration. That can cause headaches, constipation, sluggishness, and fatigue.
Experts say there are a variety of reasons people with dementia don’t drink enough water:
- Forgetfulness: This classic symptom of dementia puts seniors at increased risk for dehydration. An older adult with memory loss may simply forget to drink water.
- Fear of water: Some adults with Alzheimer’s develop a fear of water. If that’s the type of dementia your mom has, it might be part of the issue. You might also notice her getting anxious and agitated with other water-related tasks, especially bathing and showering. Just the sound of water running can cause fear for some.
- Difficulty swallowing: The physical damage dementia causes to the brain can lead to problems swallowing, a condition known as dysphagia. An older person might avoid drinking because they are afraid of choking.
- Impaired abstract thought: As Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia progress, the person living with it may lose the ability to problem solve. While they might feel thirsty—though some also lose the ability to recognize thirst—they might not know what to do about it.
If any of these may be concerns for your mother, you can work on ways to help her stay hydrated.
Tips to Help a Senior with Dementia Stay Hydrated
Here are suggestions that might be helpful:
- Frequent prompts: If memory loss is the culprit, make sure to prompt your mom to drink frequently throughout the day. It often helps to keep a bottle of water with you and drink often to encourage her to model the behavior.
- Dark drinking glass: Some have found that using dark drinking glasses and bottles works for their loved one. Fill a few when the senior isn’t in the room to hear the water running and store them in the refrigerator.
- Foods that hydrate: Many fruits and vegetables have a high water content. It’s a great way to increase daily hydration. If you don’t already, incorporate leafy greens, celery, berries, melon, cucumber, tomatoes, and apples into her daily diet. Clear soup and bone broth are other good choices.
- Water enhancers: Use fruits and vegetables to make water look and taste more appealing. Lemon slices, cucumber, mint sprigs, strawberries, and blueberries are all good choices.
- Medication review: Schedule time to review your mom’s medications with her pharmacist. If she takes any that increase the risk for dehydration, talk with her primary care physician. They may be able to swap it.
Thanks for contacting me for suggestions! I hope that you find this information beneficial.
Learn More about Dementia Care at Heritage
It takes special training and thoughtful attention to detail to allow adults with all types of dementia to enjoy their best quality of life. Read more about the Heritage approach and where to find a community near you by visiting the Specialized Dementia Care page on our website.