A new study has found that in the UK, nursing home patients suffer from dehydration more often than their elderly counterparts not living in care homes. Experts say the problem is also present in the U.S. and Canada, as well as other European countries.
The U.K. study looked at dehydration rates for patients as they were admitted to hospitals; the data showed that those admitted directly from nursing homes were more commonly dehydrated. Dehydration can lead to dangerously high sodium levels, which can increase the risk of dying while in the hospital.
The findings were reported in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. The study looked at patients 65 and older who were admitted to the hospital over two-year period. Of 21,000 patients, 432 were admitted with high sodium levels and 1400 died in the hospital. Patients admitted from nursing homes were more than five times as likely to have high sodium levels than those admitted from their own homes. Dehydrated patients – admitted from any setting – were five times more likely to die in the hospital.
Dr. Cheryl Phillips, a geriatrician and senior vice president of public policy and advocacy for LeadingAge, in Washington, D.C, told Reuters News that a variety of factors lead the elderly to be at risk for dehydration:
- As people age, the thirst that drives people to drink fluids changes and they’re not as likely to get thirsty as quickly;
- Both kidney disease and certain medicines can contribute to the problem; and
- Dehydration can happen quickly, especially in cases where someone has a fever or diarrhea – and nursing home staff may not always be aware of this risk.
The bottom line at nursing homes comes down to the quality and training of the staff. There isn’t actual data mapping a connection between staff levels and the rate of dehydration, but Phillips said, “We can interpolate because we do have data that shows that higher staffing levels lead to improved quality.”
Some experts suggest that nursing home residents may avoid drinking fluids because they’re afraid no one will help them to the bathroom – or some staff may even withhold liquids to keep residents from wetting the bed.
Phillips suggested that family members visit relatives in nursing home at different times of day and be sure water is available. Relatives can also ask nursing home staff to encourage patients to drink water.