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Dehydration Among Elderly Home Care Clients May Not Be as Easy to Detect as Once Thought

According to some new research, determining whether an elderly person might become dehydrated, especially in a care home setting, may not be as simple as once thought. While this research, conducted by the University of East Anglia, is limited to care homes, it’s a good reminder for those who are dependent on home care support services as well.

In many cases, a basic look at the eyes, inside the mouth, checking under the arms for dry spots, and inspecting the skin are common ways home care aides and visiting nurses may check aging clients for potential dehydration, but these tests may not be accurate enough.

As reported by EurekaAlert! in a news release published on its site, Care home dehydration tests don’t work:

“Carers often use simple tests to see if an older person is dehydrated. These include looking at their eyes, skin, or asking if someone feels thirsty, tired or has a headache.

But new research published today finds that these tests do not accurately identify dehydration in older people, when compared against ‘gold standard’ blood tests.

Lead researcher Dr Lee Hooper, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “Low-intake dehydration happens when people don’t drink enough fluids to stay healthy, and is very common in older people, including those living in care homes.

“It happens for all sorts of reasons, such as weakened thirst sensation – which happens as we age, not remembering to drink or difficulties fetching, carrying and reaching drinks.”

Compared to more expensive blood tests, these simple visual inspections don’t detect dehydration among older individuals nearly as accurately as it may for younger, healthier individuals. This can be an incredibly important consideration for home care providers who are looking after the best interests of their elderly clients.

Even a visiting nurse or other home health care provider who is relaying information to the patient’s primary care physician may note that this individual appears to be properly hydrated when, in fact, they are experiencing some level of dehydration. Inaccurate reporting or ineffective diagnosis techniques can lead to inappropriate or improper treatment options moving forward.

It may be necessary to consult with that individual’s primary doctor to determine the likelihood of dehydration, what specific symptoms the caregiver should look for, and to not simply rely on basic “tried and true” methods that had been used in the past. As people age, their physical nature changes and that may be affecting the ability to detect dehydration with these other, simpler methods.

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