Question marks over care home dehydration tests

Question marks over care home dehydration tests
iStock: Jevtic

Researchers have found that standard tests used to identify dehydration are not working for older people living in care homes.

Carers often look at a resident’s eyes and skin, or ask if he or she feels thirsty, tired or has a headache to see if the person is dehydrated.

However, according to research from the University of East Anglia the tests do not accurately identify dehydration, when compared against ‘gold standard’ blood tests.

The research team studied 188 men and women living in care homes in Norfolk and Suffolk.

Standard dehydration tests, such as looking in their mouth, having blood pressure, pulse and temperature measured, and answering questions about how they were feeling, including whether they felt thirsty or not, were carried out.

They were also given a blood test for serum osmolality, which measures low-intake dehydration.

Lead researcher Dr Lee Hooper, of the university’s Norwich Medical School, said: ‘[Standard] tests have long been described as standard clinical indicators of dehydration and their use is advocated in nursing and medical text books, care guidelines and many health-related websites.

‘But we wanted to know if these tests work in older people living in care homes, how accurate they are, and whether they really tell us if someone is dehydrated. This is important to know because using a test which doesn’t work is telling us the wrong thing and health professionals might provide the wrong care as a result.’

The research team found that all the simple tests did not accurately identify people with dehydration, and recommended they be withdrawn from practice.

Lead author of the study, Dr Diane Bunn, from the university’s School of Health Sciences, said: ‘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.’

The research has been published in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association (JAMDA).

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Deven Pamben has more than 15 years’ experience as a journalist, working on newspapers, trade magazines and online publications. A Criminology graduate, Deven worked for Hertfordshire Constabulary before becoming a journalist. He began his journalism career at a local newspaper in Hertfordshire before moving into trade magazines in permanent roles or as a freelancer. Titles he has reported and edited on include Law Society Gazette, Harpers Wine and Spirit, and Health Club Management. Deven has also written travel features for the Sunday People, and spent two years working in Beijing for the official press agency of the People’s Republic of China.