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Dehydration common among patients admitted to hospital from care homes

January 16, 2015

London, Research published today by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine concludes that patients admitted to hospital from care homes are commonly dehydrated on admission and consequently appear to experience significantly greater risks of in-hospital mortality.

Old and infirm people are at increased risk of dehydration, especially if they require assistance with drinking and, left to themselves, may not drink enough to avoid dehydration. Dehydration leads to high sodium levels, which can have severe consequences and which are an independent predictor of in-hospital mortality.

Researchers from Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals NHS Trust, the University of Oxford and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine reviewed over 20,000 patients aged 65 years and over admitted to a London hospital trust for the first time between January 2011 and December 2013. While 1% of patients admitted from their own home were found to have high sodium levels, the figure for patients admitted from care homes was 12%. After adjustment for a number of possible explanatory factors, including age and dementia, the risk of high sodium levels was still over five times higher for those admitted from care homes.

Lead researcher Dr Anthony Wolff, of the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, which acquired Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals in July 2014, said: “Our study shows that too many patients admitted to hospital from a substantial number of care homes are dehydrated, leading to unnecessary loss of life. High sodium levels in care home residents should raise questions about adequate support for drinking.”

Professor Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and co-author of the research paper, added: “This raises serious concerns about the quality of care provided in some care homes. When a care home has more than a few residents admitted to hospital with high sodium levels this may well be indicative of a systematic problem at the care home and the issue should be raised formally”.

Co-author Professor David Stuckler, from the University of Oxford, said: “Clearly this level of dehydration is a problem. Further research is needed to understand why it is occurring. Are care home residents choosing to drink less than they should? Or, as has been speculated, are care home staff not offering enough water to reduce incontinence and the amount of assistance their residents require?”

Notes to editors

Are patients admitted to hospitals from care homes dehydrated? A retrospective analysis of hypernatraemia and in-hospital mortality (DOI: 10.1177/0141076814566260) by Anthony Wolff, David Stuckler and Martin McKee will be published by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine at 00:05hrs (UK time) on Friday 16 January 2015.

For further information or a copy of the paper please contact:
Rosalind Dewar
Media Office, Royal Society of Medicine
DL +44 (0) 1580 764713
M +44 (0) 7785 182732

Daniel O’Brien
Communications officer, Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust
DL +44 (0) 207 3177740

Katie Steels/Jenny Orton
Press Office, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
DL +44 (0) 20 7927 2802
M: +44 (0) 7714 138 401

The JRSM is the flagship journal of the Royal Society of Medicine and is published by SAGE. It has full editorial independence from the RSM. It has been published continuously since 1809. Its Editor is Dr Kamran Abbasi.


The Royal Free began as a pioneering organisation and continues to play a leading role in the care of patients. Our mission is to provide world class expertise and local care. In the 21st century, the Royal Free London continues to lead improvements in healthcare.
In July 2014 Barnet Hospital and Chase Farm Hospital became part of the Royal Free London.
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