Dehydration or Dementia

Dehydration or Dementia

Bentley Bruhn RD, LD


As our older population is on the rise, it is important to address common issues that can be prevented in order to improve health and lower healthcare cost. Many feel that we are an “over prescribed” culture and that we are often relying on medications that address symptoms rather than fixing the problems which can often be corrected with simple lifestyle changes. Many times adjusting daily behaviors such as proper nutrition, hydration, and exercise can “fix” our problems.  Doing so can bypass the need for medication, lower the cost of our medicine, and eliminate side-effects caused by medicine that might not be necessary in the first place.

Take something as simple as dehydration, for instance.  It is one of the six most common diagnoses in the older population, yet it is consistently overlooked as the origin of other medical complications. A common example of this is when older adults drink less fluid later in the day because they fear falling in the middle of the night when they have to wake up to use bathroom. According to the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism, older adults are particularly vulnerable to dehydration due to age-related change in total body water composition, impaired thirst perception, renal concentration ability, side-effects of their prescribed medications, functional limitations, infrequent urination, and urinary incontinence.

Since water accounts for 60-70% of our total body weight, it is critical that we maintain our fluid levels. Unfortunately, due to age related changes in the body, many older adults have a hard time even recognizing their own thirst. Therefore, many seniors do not drink adequate fluids thereby putting them at risk for problems such as constipation, urinary tract infections, cognitive impairment, and falls. That is right. Disturbances in fluid balance can lead to neurological symptoms including confusion and dementia.

To avoid dehydration related problems, it is important to understand how much fluid you and your loved ones should be drinking throughout the day. Current recommendations indicate older adults should drink at least a liter and a half of fluid each day, unless otherwise indicated by a medical professional. It is important to make drinking fluid a part of your daily routine. Encourage those around you to increase fluid intake. Remind them daily.  If consuming water is a challenge, try to drink small amounts throughout the day and mix in other fluids that you enjoy. Drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning will help replenish fluids and start your day on a healthy note.

So do your kidneys, your mind, and the rest of your body a favor and consume at least 1.5 liters of water.  You will feel the difference.


Bentley Bruhn grew up in Birmingham, graduated from the University of Alabama, and is a Registered Dietitian.  For references and citations see 




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