In the wake of this year’s Nutrition and Hydration Week, Roz Witney, nutritionist at Dine Contract Catering, shares her advice on how to ensure residents receive the hydration they need to remain as healthy as possible …
“With recent research suggesting that one in five older people living in care homes has dehydration, this year’s Nutrition and Hydration Week was a timely opportunity to raise awareness and improve understanding of the importance of good hydration – and the role that both food and drink can play in this.
The elderly are particularly vulnerable to dehydration for a number of reasons. Among these is a reduced sensation of thirst, which can remove the desire to drink in the first place. Coupled with factors such as a decrease in muscle and bone mass – which means they don’t retain as much water – it’s easy to see why older people can struggle to get the fluids they need on a daily basis.
Signs of dehydration can range from difficulty passing urine and constipation to muscle cramps, headaches, irritability and feeling weak or dizzy. It sounds obvious, but key to avoiding any of these symptoms in the first place is to encourage residents who may have reduced thirst to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day.
Extra effort needs to be made to serve a variety of drinks, so besides traditional staples such as water, cups of tea and squash, try offering diluted fruit juices in a range of flavours.
Tart varieties are often popular among older people, so be sure to include options such as lime cordials in your selection.
A helping hand from food
Certain food types can also be a fantastic source of hydration which can be useful for residents who may be reluctant to drink as much as they need.
Take fruit, for example. While rich in health-boosting and protective antioxidants and phytonutrients, it also has a major role to play in preventing dehydration.
In fact, fruit can actually be more hydrating than water, as it often includes hydrating salts, minerals and sugars. This is the effect that the isotonic drinks used by athletes try to mimic, although they never do the job as effectively as these natural foods.
Here are my top five hydrating foods to include on your menus:
Cucumber: with the highest water content of any food, cucumber is cheap, versatile and available just about anywhere
Yogurt: natural yogurt is around 85-88 per cent water. Full of calcium, B vitamins and super good-for-you probiotics (look for yogurt that has live cultures), it’s also a great complement to juicy, water-packed fruit.
Watermelon: contains the plant chemicals lutein and zeaxanthin, which has been found to increase hydration levels even further
Tomatoes: rich in the protective antioxidant lypocene, cherry tomatoes can make a delicious and portable snack. If you’re low on energy, balance them with nuts or cubes of low-fat cheese.
A head start
Monitoring the nutritional intake of residents, including how much they have to drink, is certainly a challenge faced by the care homes we work with, which is why we developed our unique Nutrition Pathway System. Carers simply need to log what a resident has had to eat – and how much of it they’ve had – and the system will offer a full breakdown of their intake, flagging any deficiencies.
Regardless of whether a home chooses to use a system like ours, keeping a close eye on nutritional intake, including foods high in water content, will draw attention to any important nutrients residents are lacking in, as well as whether they are taking in enough calories and fluids in the first place. After all, it’s important to take action as early as possible before a deficiency starts to take its toll on a resident’s health.