Dehydration and Signs of Dehydration (April, 2012)

Dehydration occurs when the body loses more fluid than it takes in. This loss of water upsets the balance needed to maintain normal body function.

Dehydration is a disorder that is common in individuals with developmental disabilities. Dehydration is silent and therefore can be difficult to recognize. Dehydration may vary from mild to severe. Dehydration can lead to serious medical complications and even death if not recognized, treated appropriately, and monitored closely.

Some individuals with developmental disabilities may rely on staff to satisfy their need for fluids while other individuals may only need prompting in order to maintain adequate fluid intake. Still other individuals may have no problems maintaining adequate fluid status.

Dehydration that is unrecognized can have serious health consequences, especially for individuals with other health issues. Staff should be actively assessing individuals as they interact with them for sign of dehydration.

Initial Signs of Dehydration

  • dry mouth
  • absence of tears
  • decreased urination
  • strong urine odor

More serious signs of dehydration

  • fast heart rate
  • dry cracked lips
  • sunken eyes
  • low blood pressure

If any of these signs are noted, please act quickly to encourage fluid intake. Staff may want to start a tracking the amount of fluid taken in and the number of times an individual urinates. This may help give more subjective information on the fluid status of the individual. If these signs are present, staff should contact healthcare personnel for instructions. Please remember that adequate fluid intake should be ensured daily.