As the hotter days of summer arrive, those of us caring for a loved one with dementia must become more wary of the dangers of dehydration.
First, we must be aware that an individual living with dementia may experience sensory changes that will leave them unable to recognize that they are not taking in enough fluids. They may not feel well, but be unable to connect this feeling with dehydration or describe how they feel. We may note that they seem more fatigued, confused, or irritable, yet not connect this with a lack of water.
The Mayo Clinic recommends 15 cups of water a day for men, and 11 for women. A senior may require less, but this should not be an excuse to neglect fluid intake. If your loved one’s urine is clear to light yellow, they are getting enough water. Darker yellow urine is an indicator of dehydration.
As summer arrives, your loved one may want to walk more or sit in the sun. These changes in behavior are good since they will result in more exercise and greater intake of vitamin D. Encourage this behavior, but be aware that it will create a greater need for water.
We must become more proactive in encouraging them to drink liquids. Just as we do with their toileting, we may need to set a timed reminder on our smart phone or watch to tell us that it is time to encourage them to hydrate.
It is likely they cannot do this on their own, due to a range of sensory changes caused by dementia. They may be losing peripheral vision, depth perception, and color discrimination, which will make it more difficult for them to see or recognize a glass of water you have set out for them.
They will lose manual dexterity, making it more difficult to pick up a glass or bottle and maneuver it to their lips. As dementia progresses, we may have to help them drink.
Try using red coloring with the water, red healthy juices such as cranberry juice, or red containers. Studies have proven that red is not just easier to see, but it actually stimulates the appetite. It can be more appealing than a glass of clear water.
Good hydration is not just about drinking water. High water content foods are also effective, and, fortunately, many of these become popular or more available in the summer months. Examples are cucumbers, celery, zucchini, watermelon, strawberries, spinach, grapes, and cauliflower.
Also, try Jell-O or that ever-popular treat ice cream. Eggs have good water content, and also provide easy-to-consume protein.
Avoid high-sugar energy drinks. They are designed for high-activity, perspiring, younger people. For a senior, they can result a dangerous level of sugar retention.
We too often take hydration for granted. Please practice good hydration, both for yourself and your loved one with dementia, especially when hotter weather arrives.
Debbie Selsavage is a certified trainer and consultant in the Positive Approach to Care, and a certified dementia practitioner. Her company, Coping with Dementia LLC, is dedicated to making life better for individuals living with dementia. Contact Debbie at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn about free support groups online.