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Is thirst associated with disability in hospital inpatients?

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Abstract:

Objectives: The study aimed to determine what factors prevent patients from drinking in hospital. It also investigated whether thirst is associated with disability and how patients obtain drinks.

Methods:Structured interviews with patients and staff were carried out using the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys (OPCS) disability instrument to measure patient's disability. The study took place in an oncology, orthopaedic and general medical ward in three Cardiff hospitals, with 50 patients studied on each ward (150 patients in total). The main outcome measures were thirst score, ease of reaching drinks, waiting before asking for assistance, availability of drinks and help to drink, and disability score.

Results:Fifty-two per cent (n= 78) of the sample were more thirsty than usual since admission.

Thirty-seven per cent (n= 56) were not able to drink as often as they needed to. For these patients the causes included: inability to reach the drink (89%) reluctance to ask for help to drink (45%), unavailability of drinks (32%) and unavailability of help to drink (29%). Of the patients who needed help to drink, 94% (n= 33) waited before asking for help, and 91% did so because they did not want to trouble busy staff. Significant associations were found between thirst and various aspects of disability (locomotion, reaching and stretching, dexterity, personal care and continence).

Conclusion: Thirst was common in the sample of inpatients interviewed. Many patients were unable to drink as often as they needed. Inability to reach drinks, reluctance to ask busy staff for help and unavailability of drinks or help to drink were the main reasons for this. Thirst was associated with disability. No causal relationship was proved, but disabled dependant patients rely on the availability of drinks within reach and help to drink. Lack of these provisions may be important factors contributing to thirst in disabled inpatients.

Keywords: disability; inpatients; thirst

Document Type: Original Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-277X.1997.00061.x

Publication date: January 1, 1997

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