According to the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, dehydration is the most common fluid and electrolyte disorder in the elderly with a prevalence of 20-40%.The elderly are at a high risk for dehydration related to a decreased sense of thirst, fear of being incontinent, swallow difficulties and gastrointestinal disorders just to name a few.

Fluid intake reduces as the aging process takes place. Dehydration in the elderly is associated with a higher complication rate and must be regularly monitored. Standard follow-up from nursing and dietary paired with resident education on strategies to maintain adequate hydration levels are essential to preserve optimal hydration in the elderly population.

The importance of adequate hydration among the elderly cannot be stressed enough. There are several ways to ensure adequate fluids are being consumed by our elderly residents:

  • Keep a full and fresh water pitcher at the bedside table.
  • Ensure the water pitcher and a cup is within the resident’s reach.
  • Incorporate foods high in water content (e.g. popsicles, gelatin and watermelon) in daily activities.
  • Make drinks more appealing by using lemonade pitchers and glasses, cocktail decorations or a fruit garnish.
  • Take a proactive approach when administering fluids. Hand the residents a drink as opposed to asking if they want a drink.
  • Identify residents at high risk for dehydration and place a symbol (e.g. a picture of a water droplet) in the resident’s rooms to remind staff to encourage fluid consumption.
  • Provide a variety of sugar-free flavored beverages, such as Crystal Light, to help increase palatability and assist with hydration.
  • Have the Dietitian re-evaluate the residents on fluid restrictions. He/she can make recommendations, if appropriate, to liberalize the restriction.
  • Provide resident education about the importance of adequate hydration.


Ensuring adequate hydration for the elderly requires the involvement of the entire interdisciplinary team. Every opportunity to encourage residents to drink should be used, not only by nursing staff, dietary, activities, social services, volunteers and family. By taking a proactive approach to prevent dehydration, staff members can assist in maximizing resident health and well-being.