Helping people to drink enough to stay healthy

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Fluids like water, tea, coffee and juice are essential for the body to be healthy. The importance of having enough fluids does not decrease with age. If you are providing care for someone it is important to make sure they are drinking enough to stay healthy.

If we do not drink enough we can become dehydrated. Dehydrated people are more likely to develop pressure sores, skin conditions, bladder infections, constipation and confusion or delirium. They may also be more prone to infection or falls.

Older people may not feel thirsty even though they need fluids. This may be more pronounced where the person has dementia, has suffered a stroke or is taking certain medications. Some medications may decrease the sensation of being thirsty or increase urine production.

It is important to remember that the person you are caring for may not be able to tell you when they need a drink, or they may not feel thirsty even though their body needs more fluids.

How can you tell if someone is not drinking enough? Look out for these warning signs

• has their behaviour changed, for example becoming more confused?
• are they more tired than usual?
• are they more unsteady on their feet or dizzy?
• are they drinking less than usual? For example are they not drinking all of their usual cup of tea?
• are they passing dark urine or less urine?
• are they indicating headaches?
• do they have a dry mouth/nose?
• do they have dry skin?
• do they have cramp?
• have you noticed any coughing or drooling when drinking?
• could they have a swallowing difficulty that is making it uncomfortable to drink?

How much should someone drink through the day?

• 6-8 glasses per day using a 250ml mug or glass
• remember that foods high in water, like fresh fruits, vegetables and some dairy products can be an important part of a person’s fluid intake

What you can do to help

• if the person you are caring for can't manage regular sized drinks try offering small sips often. You could use a teaspoon to offer a little sip. Always refer to the care plan or assessment to understand what the person's needs are
• offer a drink at every meal
• think about using different cups e.g. nosey beakers or ones which encourage independence
• make sure that person is in an upright, supported position for drinking
• help the person to avoid tipping their head back to drink. Instead encourage them to keep their chin down to make swallowing as safe as possible
• no-one should be on thickened fluids without a specialist assessment


Malnutrition Helpline

The Malnutrition Helpline puts the public and health and social care professionals in touch with a team of dietitians who can provide advice on a range of issues relating to difficulties with eating and drinking including food access, nutritional supplements, dehydration, screening for malnutrition and pressure ulcers.

The helpline number is 0113 843 0905 and is operated between 9am and 4pm, Monday to Friday.
There is also an email address people can use:

Malnutrition Helpline (PDF, 442 KB) External link

Speech and Swallowing Team – Leeds Community Healthcare

The Community Speech and Swallowing team External link provide services for people struggling with a range of speech and swallowing disorders.


The Leeds Food Consensus contains useful information and resources on nutrition and hydration.

The Social Care Institute for Excellence has a Hydration in Older People guideExternal link.

The Polycystic fibrosis charity have a useful pee colour resource chart.