Tackling dehydration

Dehydration is a particularly severe problem for the elderly, increasing confusion and falls and making hospital admission more likely. But it isn’t easy to see when an older person is beginning to become dehydrated. We need to be able to see when a person is becoming dehydrated in order to help them to drink more and prevent serious dehydration.

The researchers will be working with care homes to identify an easy and non-invasive recognition test that can signal when someone is in need of liquid.

“There are many reasons why a frail older person gets dehydrated, even with the best care,” said the lead researcher, Dr Lee Hooper of the Norwich Medical School at the University of East Anglia (UEA).

“Often elderly people do not feel thirsty in the same way that someone younger does; they may also hang back from drinking for fear of finding themselves without easy access to a bathroom, or wanting to avoid getting up in the night. Drinks may not be available at precisely the time that suits an individual, or the drinks on offer may simply not appeal to them. ”

Dehydration is easily detected by blood test, but Dr Hooper would like to identify an effective and easier way to recognise the problem. One idea she will investigate is if a squeeze test is a good indicator of dehydration. This entails checking how quickly the flesh springs back after the hand is lightly squeezed.

Dr Hooper is looking to recruit around 200 participants for the study and will be contacting care homes across Norfolk and into Suffolk. Each participant will be asked to have some simple tests like the pinch test and give a blood sample (together taking about half an hour). This will be followed up by a second interview a year later.

She also wants to engage both care home staff and residents to act as experts in the research process – because of their practical knowledge and experience – interpreting and commenting on the researchers’ findings and on the acceptability of the test that is finally identified.

Lee Hooper is a dietitian and nutritionist. She was awarded a Fellowship by the National Institute for Health Research to undertake this research.

Interested care homes, residents and staff should contact Dr Lee Hooper by email [email protected]