Many of us are familiar with the advice to drink two litres of water each day because it’s good for our health. This advice is based on the idea that because we are mostly made of water, staying well hydrated will help keep our bodies and minds in tip-top condition.
But recent research has now hinted at a link between drinking enough water and our ability to resist common illnesses, especially as we get older. These findings could be particularly important for vulnerable people admitted to long term care homes and similar facilities. Studies show that around 10 per cent of elderly patients admitted as emergencies were dehydrated.
We all become more susceptible to dehydration as we get older, for a variety of reasons, but the impact when we are ill could be more severe. Escherichia coli (often called E. coli), for example, is one of the most commonly reported serious illnesses in the UK. In addition to the severity of the illness itself, it can cause complications such as urinary tract infections in patients and residents. Other research has shown that many bloodstream infections to have a urinary source.
This could explain why drinking more water might help reduce these infections because the bacteria that cause them are flushed out of the body sooner and more easily.
The study also tested whether patients and residents would drink more water. This showed that even when encouraged to drink 1500 ml a day, the average consumption was only slightly more than 1000 ml. There was some evidence that patients would drink more water if it were offered as fruit juices instead.
More research is needed but these recent findings – when considered alongside existing studies – raise an intriguing possibility: could cleaning teams help their care professional colleagues to reduce infection rates by encouraging residents to drink more water throughout the day?
Cleaning teams already play a significant role in fighting infections in care homes, whether through regimes designed to prevent and remove infections from surfaces where they can be touched or by enabling simple and effective hand hygiene. By definition, cleaning team members will be working in these facilities throughout the day and are more than likely interacting with residents, visitors and staff. It should be a relatively easy step to encourage residents to drink their water or juice regularly but – just as important – to ensure these vital liquids are always available.