Standard dehydration tests don’t work, say University researchers

Standard tests used to identify dehydration are not working for older people living in care homes – according to new research from the University of East Anglia.

Carers often use simple tests to see if an older person is dehydrated. These include looking at their eyes, skin, or asking if someone feels thirsty, tired or has a headache.

But new research published today finds that these tests do not accurately identify dehydration in older people, when compared against ‘gold standard’ blood tests.

Lead researcher Dr Lee Hooper, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “Low-intake dehydration… happens for all sorts of reasons, such as weakened thirst sensation – which happens as we age, not remembering to drink or difficulties fetching, carrying and reaching drinks.”

The research team studied 188 men and women living in care homes in Norfolk and Suffolk. Participants underwent a number of standard dehydration tests. They were also given a blood test to test for serum osmolality – the most accurate test available for measuring low-intake dehydration. The results of all the other tests were compared to this ‘gold standard’.

Lead author, Dr Diane Bunn, from UEA’s School of Health Sciences, said: “When we analysed the results of all the simple tests, we found that none of them were able to accurately identify people with dehydration, and we recommend that they are withdrawn from practice.

“Whilst blood tests are the most accurate way of telling if someone is dehydrated, this is expensive and not easily done in care homes unless a doctor orders the test. We really need an inexpensive easy-to-do test for dehydration in older people, and one which works.”

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