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Dehydration in Nursing Homes

Dehydration is a common problem among residents in general, but it is especially common in nursing homes.  One British study showed that nursing home patients admitted to hospitals were five times as likely to be dehydrated as patients not coming from nursing homes.

Factors of Dehydration

Many factors can cause dehydration.  As people age, their sense of thirst may weaken, and their kidneys tend to work less effectively.  Certain medications and diseases can cause dehydration.  Difficulty swallowing, fear of not being able to make it to the bathroom, understaffing, and many other factors can also lead to dehydration.

Especially in the residents, dehydration is dangerous and potentially fatal.  It can lead to kidney problems, low blood pressure, mental status changes (like confusion and delirium), hypernatremia (dangerously high levels of sodium in the blood); and other serious problems.

Dehydration can usually be prevented by encouraging residents to drink fluids, and offering favorite fluids frequently.  In serious cases, fluids may have to be given intravenously.

Caregivers must be vigilant for signs of dehydration in the nursing home residents, especially those who have memory or communication problems.  Early signs may include:

  • Dry, cracked lips
  • Infrequent urination
  • Dark urine
  • Dry skin; tearless crying
  • Thirst

If recognized early, dehydration is usually easily treated and reversed with no lasting damage.  On the other hand, some studies have shown that if dehydration is not treated adequately, over 50% of residents with dehydration die.

If you need support or have any questions, please contact us for immediate assistance.


Faes, M.C.; Spigt, M.G.; and OldeRikkert, M.G.M.  “Dehydration in Geriatrics.”  2007.  Geriatrics and Aging 10(9):590-596.  Available at

Wolff, Anthony; Stuckler, David; and McKee, Martin.  “Are patients admitted to hospitals from care homes dehydrated?  A retrospective analysis of hypernatremia and in-hospital mortality.”  January 15, 2015.  Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 108(7).  Available at

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