Common myths about water drinking may damage health in older people

Dehydration is thought to affect between a third to nearly half of frail older people and is associated with a higher risk of adverse health outcomes, from having a stroke or a fall to being admitted to hospital.

For example, it is known that people who are admitted to the hospital after a stroke are more than twice as likely to suffer significant impairment if they are dehydrated when they are admitted.

In a recent study from University College London, researchers found that myths about healthy water drinking may be putting older people’s health at risk by discouraging them from drinking enough fluid to stay healthy.

One common myth is that thirst is a reliable indicator of when you need to drink, when this may no longer be the case for older people.

Another myth is that you have to drink water – in fact, tea, coffee, and juices all count.

The study is published in Age and Ageing. The lead author is Dr. Cini Bhanu (UCL Epidemiology & Health Care).

In the study, the team aimed to assess older people’s views on hydration.

They conducted one-to-one interviews with 24 people aged over 75 who lived at home in the north and central London, as well as nine informal carers.

Until now little research has been done into the views on the hydration of elderly people who do not live in care homes.

The researchers found that, while interviewees were somewhat aware of public health messages on hydration, many misconceptions existed.

They say that keeping well-hydrated is key to good health among older people, reducing the risk of hospital admissions and other poor health outcomes.

However, many do not link hydration to good health and are unsure of how much to drink.

The team suggests older women drink 1.6 liters of fluid (eight glasses) a day, while older men to drink two liters (10 glasses).

Our appetite for food and drink is reduced as we get older, so the advice is to drink regularly, even when not thirsty.

The researchers recommended that older people should be encouraged to drink more of what they enjoy and to build on existing habits – for instance, drinking more fluid as part of everyday routines, such as when taking tablets.

For some people, a significant proportion of fluid intake came in the form of alcoholic drinks.

The authors noted that beer and lager can be hydrating in some cases, consumed within recommended guidelines, for those who do not need to restrict alcohol intake for other reasons.

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