Scientists are currently studying the causes of dementia, and some findings say that hydration might be an important factor. It’s already known that your brain has less water content as you age. Scientists are now looking into whether this plays into the development of dementia and the possible link between hydration and preventing dementia progression.
Your Brain and Water
Water is a significant part of how your brain functions. The central nervous system is made up of 80% water. Water helps your brain cells and synapses function. However, as you age, your brain loses that hydration, as does the rest of your body.
Not only is underhydration possibly linked to dementia, but it is also associated with diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. Many of these diseases are also common for people in old age. Studies have shown that even in Alzheimer’s, a common form of dementia, patients have been shown to have lower water content in their brains.
Dementia and Dehydration
When a person has dementia, the brain begins to shrink. This shrinkage occurs because of the damage of neural networks and the slow shutdown of the brain. Research has found that some of the early brain dysfunction that occurs in dementia can stem from abnormalities of water homeostasis. Water homeostasis is how your body regulates water and salt levels in your blood. Water homeostasis is crucial because it makes sure these levels are the same inside and outside the brain’s cells, holding off unwanted osmosis. The water homeostasis abnormalities can cause “hyperosmolality,” or abnormal osmosis. When this happens, water is drawn out of the body’s organs, or in this case, the brain.
Your Cells and Dehydration
Hyperosmolality can affect the areas inside and outside of the cells. These conditions can completely alter the cell, causing them to malfunction and even change shape. Since hyperosmolality is so common in age-related disorders, researchers are interested in the effects and how dehydration can factor into the progression of these disorders.
Other factors related to dehydration include “hypovolemia,” which is when the liquid parts in the outside areas of the brain are too low. Hypovolemia is commonly associated with lower amounts of plasma in your blood. Hypovolemia is not the same as dehydration, but the lower amounts of liquid can have negative effects on cell metabolism. This can cause the brain to reduce in volume.
What Studies Have Said So Far
There have been clinical studies on how hydration affects cognitive performance. However, many of the results have been contradictory. It’s already known that the amount of water in the body decreases with age. It’s also known that lower brain volume has been observed in people with Alzheimer’s, as well as those with obesity and with mild cognitive impairment. In contrast, dehydration in healthy humans doesn’t change the volume of the brain. There is still much that needs to be studied about lower water levels in the brain and how it correlates with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Does Hydration Help Prevent Dementia Progression?
So far, research is inconclusive. However, many researchers hypothesize that a connection is there. Further research is needed. Scientists are interested in how these changes in brain volume relate to dehydration and rehydration. This research will most likely be done alongside research on obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes, all of which are hypothesized to be influenced by a change in water content in the body.
What has been studied so far has shown that lower liquid volume in the blood because of dehydration might be one of the factors that play in the development of certain conditions. Researchers hope there will be a better understanding of the biology of these illnesses and how knowing more about fluid balance could become the key to treatment. For now, more studies need to be done in order to know for sure if dehydration plays a role in the development of dementia.
For Now, Stay Hydrated
Dehydration is a common issue for those with dementia. Besides biological factors in play, memory issues can cause those with dementia to forget to drink enough fluids. Other barriers that keep those with dementia from staying hydrated can sometimes include fears of water, which can be a common phobia among dementia patients, as well as side effects of medication that can affect thirst levels. Hydration is essential to cognitive function in most people, but it becomes especially important for older people who need nutrition and fluids the most to help their bodies heal. If your loved one has dementia, remind them to drink plenty of water.