Research Article

Hypernatraemic dehydration in patients in a large hospital for the mentally handicapped.

BMJ 1989; 299 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.299.6713.1426 (Published 09 December 1989) Cite this as: BMJ 1989;299:1426
  1. N. J. Macdonald,
  2. K. N. McConnell,
  3. M. R. Stephen,
  4. M. G. Dunnigan
  1. Stobhill General Hospital, Glasgow.

    Abstract

    OBJECTIVE--To determine the prevalence of hypernatraemic dehydration and to assess the hydration and nutritional state of patients in a large hospital for the mentally and physically handicapped; also to assess the efficacy of an intervention programme to reduce the prevalence of hypernatraemic dehydration in the hospital. DESIGN--Prospective study of patients admitted with hypernatraemic dehydration from a large hospital for mentally and physically handicapped patients (hospital A) to a district general hospital between 1986 and 1988. In 1986 the hydration and nutritional state of a random sample of patients from hospital A was compared with a random sample of patients from a small hospital for the physically and mentally handicapped (hospital B) and with control groups from the community. The hydration of the patients from hospital A examined in 1986 was reassessed in 1988. PATIENTS--12 Patients were admitted from hospital A to the district general hospital during 1986-8 (seven women, five men; age range 29-82). In 1986, 72 patients were randomly selected for the assessment of hydration and nutritional state from hospital A, 33 who required help with feeding and 39 who could feed independently. Fifty patients were similarly selected from hospital B, half of them requiring help with feeding. In 1988 the hydration state of 60 of the 72 patients from hospital was reassessed. Control values were taken from two published studies. INTERVENTIONS--In 1987 nursing staff in hospital A were asked to provide between 2.5 and 3.0 litres of fluid daily for all patients. The use of hypertonic enemas was discontinued, and the ratio of staff to patients was increased. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES--Serum concentrations of urea and electrolytes (hydration) and body mass index (nutritional state). RESULTS--Of the 10 patients admitted with hypernatraemic dehydration from hospital A to the district general hospital in 1986, four died of intercurrent infection. No patients were admitted from hospital B with hypernatraemic dehydration during the same time. In 1986 the hydration and nutritional state of patients in hospital A were inferior to those in patients from hospital B and control subjects from the community (serum urea concentrations were 6.1 (SD 1.8) mmol/l v 5.5 (1.9) and 5.6 (0.4) mmol/l, respectively) 50% (36/72) of patients in hospital A had a body mass index less than or equal to 20 compared with 34% (17/50) of patients from hospital B and 12% (1141/9434) of control subjects). After the initiation of the preventive programme only one patient was admitted with hypernatraemic dehydration in each of the years 1987 and 1988. The mean serum urea concentration of the 60 patients who were reassessed in 1988 fell significantly between 1986 and 1988 from 6.1 (SD 1.8) mmol/l to 5.7 (2.1) mmol/l, the value in a control group matched for age and sex. CONCLUSIONS--Hypernatraemic dehydration, subclinical underhydration, and undernutrition were common in a large hospital for the mentally and physically handicapped. The problem of hypernatraemic dehydration was successfully dealt with by the hospital management team. Similar problems may be encountered in hospitals for patients who are mentally and physically handicapped and mentally ill, including psychogeriatric units.