Background and Aims: Low-intake dehydration amongst older people, caused by insufficient fluid intake, is associated with mortality, multiple long-term health conditions and hospitalisation. The prevalence of low-intake dehydration in older adults, and which groups are most at-risk, is unclear. We conducted a high-quality systematic review and meta-analysis, implementing an innovative methodology, to establish the prevalence of low-intake dehydration in older people (PROSPERO registration: CRD42021241252).  
Method: We systematically searched Medline (Ovid), Cochrane CENTRAL, Embase (Ovid), CINAHL and Proquest from inception until April 2023 and Nutrition and Food Sciences until March 2021. We included studies that assessed hydration status for non-hospitalised participants aged ≥65 years, by directly-measured serum/plasma osmolality, calculated serum/plasma osmolarity and/or 24-hour oral fluid intake. Inclusion, data extraction and risk of bias assessment was carried out independently in duplicate.  

Results: From 11,077 titles and abstracts, we included 61 (22,398 participants), including 44 in quality-effects meta-analysis.  
Meta-analysis suggested that 24% (95% CI: 0.07, 0.46) of older people were dehydrated (assessed using directly-measured osmolality >300mOsm/kg, the most reliable measure). Subgroup analyses indicated that both long-term care residents (34%, 95% CI: 0.09, 0.61) and community-dwelling older adults (19%, 95% CI: 0.00, 0.48) were highly likely to be dehydrated. Those with more pre-existing illnesses (37%, 95% CI: 0.14, 0.62) had higher low-intake dehydration prevalence than others (15%, 95% CI: 0.00, 0.43), and there was a non-significant suggestion that those with renal impairment (42%, 95% CI: 0.23, 0.61) were more likely to be dehydrated than others (23%, 95% CI: 0.03, 0.47), but there were no clear differences in prevalence by age, sex, functional, cognitive or diabetic status. GRADE quality of evidence was low as to the exact prevalence due to high levels of heterogeneity between studies.  
Conclusion: Quality-effects meta-analysis estimated that a quarter of non-hospitalised older people were dehydrated. Widely varying prevalence rates in individual studies, from both long-term care and community groups, highlight that dehydration is preventable amongst older people.  
Implications: One in every 4 older adults has low-intake dehydration. As dehydration is serious and prevalent, research is needed to better understand drinking behaviour and assess effectiveness of drinking interventions for older people.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1510-1520
Number of pages11
JournalClinical Nutrition
Issue number8
Early online date8 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2023


  • Aged
  • Dehydration
  • Dementia
  • Geriatrics
  • Prevalence
  • Systematic review

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