Call for action: Hydration for older people

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‘More than 1,000 care home residents have died of thirst or while suffering severe dehydration over the past decade’ reports The Daily Telegraph. The article also mentions that the figure could be higher if care home residents who die in hospital are included. The figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act are the result of an analysis of death certificates by the Office of National Statistics. The article highlights the outcry by various charities for improvements in hydration for older people, and demands action by policy makers and the regulator.

Being able to access and enjoy a drink is integral to dignity and respect for older people and this should be fundamental to care provision in all settings. There are many barriers to hydration ranging from lack of access and support for drinking to not being able to get to the toilet in time. All of these may prevent older people to keep themselves hydrated. It is highly important that the barriers are identified and addressed appropriately.

The Parliamentary Hydration Forum is committed to raising the profile of this key issue through an Action Plan which outlines the challenges and solutions to drinking and hydration issues for older people whether living independently, in care homes or during hospital stays. Under the auspices of the cross party Parliamentary Hydration Forum, ILC-UK (an independent think tank on older people policy) demands a concerted action by all agencies to work together and address the serious issue of dehydration among older people in various settings.

As a part of the work of the Parliamentary Hydration Forum its members have developed an overall vision and aims which present its priority areas for change.

‘To ensure universal, easy accessibility to drinks and the means to achieve healthy hydration for all older people in all settings and at all times’

The Parliamentary Hydration Forum is asking key organisations and individuals to commit to working to tackle hydration for older people, particularly those most vulnerable. The focus is not only on access to drinks, but also support to drink where needed and overall healthy drinking practices.  The work would be done through six key areas:

  • To raise awareness about the importance of hydration and prevention of dehydration to ensure good health.
  • To ensure that up to date good practice guidance is available across all sectors.
  • To promote screening for hydration for all people using health and social care services with special focus on people in vulnerable circumstances.
  • To incorporate in the training for front line managers and care providers the significance of hydration in care provision.
  • To ensure inclusion of hydration in inspections and regulation through essential standards of quality and safety.
  • To develop robust and high quality evidence by encouraging research into hydration in health and social care.

The ILC-UK on behalf of the Parliamentary Hydration Forum would urge organisations and individuals to get behind this call and join the relevant work stream.

Older people dying due to lack of hydration in care settings should be a matter of grave concern for a highly developed country like UK. It is high time we stop unnecessary deaths which can be avoided with simple non-expensive initiatives.   

Rekha Elaswarapu, M.Stud (Cambridge), Ph.D., MIHM

Independent Consultant and dignity adviser

Professional Associate, National Care Forum

Associate Fellow, ILC-UK


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