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Falling over for a drink
13 March 2017

Older people are much more vulnerable to dehydration, leading to an increased risk of falling.

During National Hydration Week (13-19 March) older people, their families and carers are being encouraged to look out for the signs and symptoms of dehydration and make sure they have enough to drink. Dehydration occurs when your body loses more fluid than it takes in and can cause light-headedness and dizziness.

Reducing the number of elderly falls will enable older people to maintain their independence longer and reduce the pressure on NHS services.

Falling is one of the most frequent and serious types of injury for anyone aged 65 or over:

  • 50% of people aged over 80 suffer a fall each year
  • 33% of people aged over 65 suffer a fall each year
  • 10% of elderly falls result in serious injury

Dr Imran Qureshi, a GP in Leiston and chairman of the clinical executive of NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group said: “A fall can be physically and mentally devastating for an older person, often resulting in the loss of independence, and dehydration is a main or contributing factor in many falls.

“Older people often experience a reduced sensation of thirst, meaning they don’t realize they need a drink. This particularly affects those with Alzheimer’s disease or those who have suffered a stroke. Some medicines such as diuretics and laxatives may increase the likelihood of dehydration and those who are incontinent might limit their fluid intake.

“I would encourage family members and carers to be aware of the symptoms of dehydration which include: sluggishness, confusion, dizziness and dark urine. Around 20% of water in the average diet comes from food and the remaining 80% comes from drinks, so it’s important that older people have a regular intake of fluids. The recommendation is to drink 6-8 cups of fluid each day, which includes fruit juice, tea and coffee, milky drinks and water.

“Older people should consider having a drink at specific times during the day, whether or not they feel thirsty, to make sure they don’t become dehydrated. If you look after an older person don’t rely on asking them whether they are thirsty, instead encourage them to take a drink at regular intervals. Wet foods like jelly, blancmange and soup are also a good source of water.

“Ensuring good hydration not only prevents falls, it also improves the mood, stimulates the appetite and reduces restlessness and disrupted sleep patterns.”

Daimon Wheddon, area clinical lead at East of England Ambulance Service said: "Falls-related calls make up a large percentage (17-18%) of the incidents we attend every day. We regularly see dehydration as a contributory factor in our elderly patients who have fallen; common complications include low blood pressure, weakness and dizziness, all of which can increase the risk of falls.

"Something as simple as making sure older people are drinking plenty of fluids such as water, diluted squash or fruit juice can make a real difference reducing the risk and is much more effective than just large amounts of tea or coffee."

Helen J. Taylor, chief executive, Age UK Suffolk said: "Avoiding dehydration is so important for older people and following these simple steps can help prevent falls and hospital admissions."

Click this link for more information about National Hydration Week 2017.