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Published on: November 23, 2018
by Women’s Brain Health Initiative:
Water consumption and brain function are integrally connected. Over 60% of the adult human body is composed of water and every system in the body is dependent on proper hydration, including the activities of the brain and nervous system.
“Brain cells require a delicate balance between water and various elements to operate,” says University of Texas neuroscientist Joshua Gowin. “When you lose too much water, that balance is disrupted. Your brain cells lose efficiency.” Research has demonstrated that lack of water to the brain can impair short-term memory function and the recall of long-term memory, as well as cause a variety of symptoms such as brain fog, exhaustion, headaches, sleep issues, stress, anger, and depression.
Amongst its many health benefits, water helps with digestion and circulation, as well as helps with the transportation and absorption of nutrients, and helps to limit changes in body temperature in a warm or a cold environment. Drinking water can improve one’s brain health by simply increasing blood flow and oxygen to the brain – which, in turn, improves concentration and cognition (supporting memory function) and helps balance moods and emotions, reducing stress and headaches.
Our brains do not have any way to store water, so when our bodies lose more water than the amount being consumed, dehydration sets in and cognitive function is impaired. In fact, studies have demonstrated that PROLONGED DEHYDRATION CAUSES GREY MATTER TO SHRINK IN BOTH SIZE AND MASS, AND CAN CAUSE THE BRAIN TO AGE PREMATURELY.
In a 2013 study conducted by researchers in the U.K., mild dehydration was found to have a negative effect on the brain’s performance, whereas drinking water improved the participants’ ability to complete tasks that required a rapid response.
As a natural part of the aging process, our bodies undergo physiological changes that increase our risk of becoming dehydrated. As we get older, our ability to recognize thirst declines, much as our taste buds decrease as we age. Dehydration is one of the most frequent causes of hospitalization of elderly Canadians.
Dehydration is particularly common amongst individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. During the early stages of dementia, a person may simply forget to drink because he or she is less sensitive to thirst and/or cannot recall when he or she last consumed a beverage. Individuals with moderate dementia often have difficulty remembering the mechanics of how to drink, such as turning on the faucet or even how to get fluid into a glass. The risk of dehydration is most severe in the advanced stages of dementia due to not recognizing one’s thirst, having a complete loss of thirst or being unable to express thirst to others. It is important for family members and caregivers to take time to learn the symptoms of dehydration because early intervention can keep a small problem from becoming a life threatening one.
There are multiple signs that you may not be consuming enough water, including the following:
IT IS ALSO IMPORTANT NOT TO UNDERESTIMATE HOW QUICKLY DEHYDRATION CAN OCCUR.
Merely four to eight hours without water can lead to mild dehydration, and twenty-four hours without water can result in severe dehydration.
Suggestions to Prevent Dehydration in Dementia Patients and the Elderly
Make it accessible
Put out bottles or pitchers of water and/or liquids throughout the patient’s living space and where he or she spends time, so that he or she is reminded to drink and always have access to liquids.
Make it easy
Understand the patient’s preference for easy consumption (such as water bottles, non-spill cups, and even one-way straws if suction is weak), especially if additional dexterity or coordination is required.
Make it fun
Set up notices or leave notes as a reminder for your patient to drink regularly. These can be handwritten or electronic reminders.
Make it creative
If steady plain tap water is getting tiring, try adding slices of lemon, orange or cucumber, or adding a splash of flavouring. Offering fresh juices, smoothies, and teas will not only help the patient stay hydrated, but will also supply him or her with healthy nutrients. Substituting hydrating foods is also a creative idea in an effort to offer alternatives to drinks. High-water content foods (such as broth and cottage cheese, as well as fruits like apples, oranges, berries, and grapes) can help avoid dehydration.
Make it timely
Encourage patients to drink water more often throughout the day rather than right before bed. Sometimes the fear of incontinence can diminish a patient’s urge to drink voluntarily.
Make it safe
Some medications (both prescription and over-the-counter) can contribute to dehydration. It is therefore important to review medication side effects and work with the pharmacist and doctor to avoid complications.
Source: MIND OVER MATTER v7
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