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Dehydration and Dementia: Risks and Prevention Tips

Written by Amanda Lundberg
 about the author
10 minute readLast updated July 9, 2023

Navigating the path of dementia care for a loved one can be complex. One often overlooked challenge is the risk of dehydration. As dementia progresses, your loved one’s ability to sense thirst may dwindle, making it difficult for them to maintain their fluid balance. This subtle change can have far-reaching implications, further impairing their cognitive abilities and amplifying other dementia symptoms. This article aims to equip you with essential insights into the triggers of dehydration in seniors with dementia and share effective strategies for tackling this pervasive issue.

Key Takeaways

  1. Understanding the common triggers of dehydration in seniors with dementia is key to prevention. As people age, the brain becomes less able to detect fluid imbalances caused by outside factors.
  2. There are multiple effective strategies to tackle dehydration in seniors with dementia. It may not be easy to convince your parent to drink more, but offering multiple beverage options, among other things, can help.
  3. Staying vigilant for signs of dehydration in seniors with dementia can help prevent complications. Some more serious signs can mimic dementia symptoms, so it’s important to catch dehydration early.
  4. Senior living facilities and home care services can be effective solutions in managing chronic dehydration in seniors with dementia. These facilities have trained staff and specialized programs designed to ensure proper hydration, providing a supportive environment for your loved ones.

Factors that contribute to dehydration in seniors with dementia

Dehydration often impacts seniors, especially those with dementia, as their brain’s capacity to detect fluid imbalance and trigger thirst diminishes. Here are some of the most common reasons why your loved one with dementia may face dehydration.

Fading thirst perception

As people age, their body’s alert system to signal dehydration naturally diminishes. In dementia’s early stages, seniors may become less responsive to thirst queues and may not remember the last time they had a sip of water.

Memory issues

Dehydration can worsen in dementia patients due to memory loss. As dementia advances, your loved one may forget where drinking glasses are stored, how to operate the faucet, or even the way to open a juice box.

Deteriorating verbal communication

As dementia progresses to later stages, your loved one may struggle to convey their thirst to a caregiver. Some may also lose their sense of thirst altogether, leaving them puzzled about the need to stay hydrated.

Prescription medications

Certain medicines given to patients with Alzheimer’s or other dementia types may increase sweating or urination, which necessitates drinking more water.

Fear of incontinence

Urinary incontinence is a frequent issue in mid-to-late-stage dementia. To avoid frequent trips to the bathroom, seniors might reduce their water intake, inadvertently leading to dehydration.

Underlying health conditions

Some health conditions make seniors more susceptible to dehydration. For instance, uncontrolled diabetes can lead to frequent urination, while people with cystic fibrosis may have excessively salty sweat, upsetting their mineral balance and paving the way to dehydration.

Disrupted fluid regulation

The body’s mechanism to maintain water balance relies on feedback systems that interconnect various parts of the nervous system with the kidneys. Cognitive decline can impair this crucial feedback loop.


Simple ailments like colds or sore throats can make drinking and eating an unpleasant experience. Conditions such as diarrhea and vomiting can also lead to dehydration, emphasizing the importance of encouraging fluid intake during any illness.

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How to get seniors with dementia to drink more

Staying hydrated is critical for everyone, but especially for seniors with dementia. Dehydration can exacerbate cognitive decline, making it harder for your loved one to function optimally.[01] But getting a senior with dementia to drink enough water isn’t always a walk in the park. Thankfully, there are practical strategies to ensure your loved one stays hydrated. Let’s explore some effective ways to prevent dehydration in seniors with dementia.
  1. Keep fluids within reach. Mobility can be a challenge in the later stages of dementia, so having water nearby helps seniors hydrate easily and may limit the risk of dehydration.
  2. Use hydration reminders. Use notes, alerts, or alarms to remind your loved one to drink regularly. A sticky note on the fridge or a message on their water bottle can serve as a helpful reminder.
  3. Choose adapted drinking aids. Tools like no-spill cups, straw stabilizers, and safe-swallow cups designed for people with cognitive impairment can play a significant role in preventing dehydration. Consider brightly colored or personalized cups to attract their attention.
  4. Offer hydrating, nutritious snacks. Ensure your loved one receives adequate nutrition by providing water-rich snacks like melon, cucumbers, broth, or calcium-enriched yogurts and smoothies. Nutritional drinks like Boost or Ensure can supplement their dietary needs in a liquid form.
  5. Encourage hydration through mirroring. Mirroring, a technique often used to guide behaviors in people with dementia, can encourage hydration. Regularly sip on your own drink while chatting with your loved one, prompting them to do the same.[02]
  6. Incorporate drinking breaks into activities. Encourage your loved one to take hydration breaks during their favorite activities like knitting or crafting. For instance, suggest taking a sip every time they complete a row in their knitting project.
  7. Maintain a comfortable temperature. Regulating body temperature, especially during warmer months, can help prevent dehydration in seniors with dementia. Those with dementia may struggle with internal temperature regulation, so dressing appropriately in loose clothing and keeping the living environment cool are imperative.
  8. Serve favorite beverages. While water is the ideal choice for hydration, serving tastier options like sports drinks, flavored waters, or juice can make staying hydrated more appealing. Be sure to steer clear of caffeinated or alcoholic beverages, as these can lead to increased urination, potentially exacerbating dehydration in seniors with dementia.

Recognizing the signs of dehydration in seniors with dementia

Identifying dehydration in seniors with dementia can be quite challenging, as many dehydration symptoms resemble typical dementia behaviors such as disorientation, wandering, or fatigue. Furthermore, dementia can make it harder for your loved one to recognize or express basic needs like thirst.
Knowing your loved one’s usual behavior is a good starting point that can help you spot any significant changes. Be mindful of the physical signs of dehydration in seniors with dementia, and consistently encourage water intake to prevent complications.
Here are some early signs of dehydration to watch for:
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Sunken eyes
  • Reduced urination (less than four times a day)
  • Dark-colored urine (ideally, it should be straw-colored or lighter)
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Reduced skin elasticity [03]
If dehydration becomes more serious, the following symptoms might manifest:
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Increased difficulty with movement or walking
  • Heightened disorientation or confusion
  • Episodes of fainting
  • Diarrhea or vomiting
  • Urinary tract infections
Keep these signs of dehydration in mind when caring for your loved one with dementia, and remember that timely action can prevent further health complications.

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How to manage chronic dehydration in seniors with dementia

Managing chronic dehydration in seniors with dementia is a pressing health issue. A cyclical relationship exists between dehydration and dementia. Dementia interferes with the body’s capacity to regulate water, and in turn, dehydration can worsen not only cognitive performance but also visual perception and mood. If your loved one is chronically dehydrated, you may need to explore other options like those below.

Consult with their doctor

If signs of dehydration persist despite efforts to increase your parent’s liquid intake, discuss appropriate daily fluid intake with their physician. It’s possible that adjusting their medication or addressing any vitamin or mineral deficiencies could alleviate their dehydration symptoms. Always communicate your concerns to their doctor and keep a comprehensive list of their current medications for reference.

Explore lifestyle modifications

Seniors with dementia can modify their lifestyle to prevent dehydration by incorporating several simple strategies. Encourage them to keep a water bottle nearby or make sure there are beverages available with each meal. Serve foods with high water content, such as fruits, vegetables, or soups, which can contribute to hydration while providing important nutrients. Utilizing reminders, either through the help of a caregiver, alarms, or apps, can prompt regular fluid intake. Also, the environment can play a role in promoting hydration. For instance, having a peaceful, pleasant atmosphere for mealtimes can make a difference. Family members or caregivers can model good hydration habits to instill a routine.

Consider senior living options

Exploring home care or senior living options can be a fantastic solution for managing chronic dehydration in seniors, especially those living with dementia. These care providers often have specially trained staff who are skilled in ensuring seniors stay hydrated. They are familiar with the signs of dehydration in the elderly and can act swiftly to prevent it from worsening. Additionally, many senior living communities often run specialized programs aimed at promoting hydration among seniors. From personalized hydration schedules to implementing innovative hydration aids, these facilities prioritize maintaining the right balance of fluids in their residents, ensuring your loved one’s well-being.
If managing your loved one’s hydration and dementia at home feels overwhelming, don’t hesitate to connect with a Senior Care Advisor. They will take time to understand your unique situation and recommend suitable senior living or home care options for your loved one.


  1. Lauriola, M., Mangiacotti, A., D’Onofrio, G., Cascavilla, L., Paris, F., Paroni, G., Seripa, D., Greco, A., & Sancarlo, D. (2018, May 3). Neurocognitive disorders and dehydration in older patients: clinical experience supports the hydromolecular hypothesis of dementiaNutrients.

  2. Henwood, A., & Ellis M. (2015, November 16). Giving a voice to people with advanced dementia.The Psychologist.

  3. Mayo Clinic. (2021, October 14). Dehydration.

  4. Masento, N. A., Golightly, M., Field, D. T., Butler, L. T., & van Reekum, C. M. (2014). Effects of hydration status on cognitive performance and mood.The British Journal of Nutrition.

Meet the Author
Amanda Lundberg

Amanda Lundberg, RN, has over 10 years’ experience in clinical settings, working extensively with seniors and focusing on wellness and preventative care.

Edited byKristin Carroll

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