Drinking, hydration and dementia

People with dementia can experience problems with drinking. These can include problems with staying hydrated or with alcohol.

How can dementia affect drinking?

Someone with dementia may become dehydrated if they’re unable to communicate or recognise that they’re thirsty, or if they forget to drink. This can lead to headaches, increased confusion, urinary tract infections and constipation. These can make the symptoms of dementia worse.

As people get older the sensation of thirst changes. This can mean they don’t feel thirsty even though they’re not drinking enough. Someone with dementia may experience similar changes. They may be less able or likely to get themselves a drink. 

Placing a drink in front of someone doesn’t always mean they will drink it. Also, an empty cup doesn’t always mean that the person has finished the drink. It may have been spilled, drunk by someone else, or poured away.

Ensuring the person drinks enough 

  • Encourage the person to drink throughout the day. The recommended amount is one and a half to two litres a day, which is around eight to 10 glasses or 10 to 13 cups per day.
  • Have a drink on hand whenever the person is eating something.
  • Use a clear glass so the person can see what’s inside, or try a brightly coloured cup to draw attention instead.
  • If possible, offer the person the cup or put it where they can see it clearly.
  • Offer different types of drink throughout the day such as tea, coffee, hot and cold milky drinks, fruit juice or smoothies, soup, squash and water. 
  • Make sure the cup or glass is suitable – not too heavy or a difficult shape.
  • Encourage the person to eat foods that have a high liquid content, such as gravy, ice lollies, milk jellies and yoghurt.
  • Nutritionists have created sweets called Jelly Drops®, which may help people with dementia consume more water. 

Alcohol 

People with dementia can become more confused after they drink alcohol. You may need to limit the amount of alcohol the person drinks. A person with dementia may drink too much alcohol because they've forgotten how much they've had. If this happens, or if you think they are drinking inappropriately, you could keep alcohol out of sight. You could also provide the person with low-alcohol or non-alcoholic substitutes, or watered-down alcoholic drinks.

People who have dementia related to past alcohol use should not drink alcohol. Also, alcohol doesn't mix well with certain medicines. If in doubt, ask the GP for advice. 

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