Frontline Initiative: Self-Care for DSPs

The Importance of Hydration


Shelley VanLare is a nurse educator at The Arc of Monroe, Rochester, NY. She can be reached at

Photo of a glass of water next to a fresh green salad.

Everybody knows that if you want to be able to do your job well, you have to feel well first! Dehydration is something we ALL need to think about. If you, the Direct Support Professional (DSP), let yourself get dehydrated, you won’t be at your best. Here’s why.

Your body craves water. Drinking it will simply make you feel healthier and stay healthier so you can do your job. Water plays a vital role in our bodies. Seventy percent of your body is made of water.

Some Facts About Hydration

  • Do you often feel fatigued? You may think it’s because you aren’t exercising enough. It could be. But fatigue is also a sign of dehydration. If you’re not drinking enough water, your blood volume drops. When this happens, your heart has to work harder to pump blood through your body.
  • Check the color of your urine (go ahead!). The lighter it is, the better hydrated you are. Drinking water dilutes salts in your body and flushes out toxins.
  • If you have a headache, this can be your body’s way of telling you to drink water. Drinking water can actually decrease the severity and length of headaches.
  • Water before a meal helps decrease your appetite and increases your metabolism. Trust me, it works.
  • Staying hydrated helps ward off muscle tightness and cramping. If you are a runner like me you know this is true! Always rehydrate after exercise.
  • Water boosts the immune system. It helps protect you from colds and the flu.
  • Water decreases body temperature by releasing heat from inside the body. Internal heat is picked up by the circulatory system and released by sweating. If the body doesn’t have enough fluid, it can’t do this.
  • Lastly, if you like to go out at night, water helps ward off hangovers. Alcohol blocks the hormone that keeps you from going to the bathroom so much. The more you drink alcohol, the more you go to the bathroom, and you end up dehydrated. That is what a hangover is. For every alcoholic beverage you drink, you should drink 8 oz. of water. Drink a big glass of water before bed. You might not feel 100% but you will be ready to face your day whole lot better.

How Does Dehydration Affect the People we Support?

Dehydration in older people or anyone who is compromised is very serious. Mortality (> 50%) of people who are dehydrated is high if not treated. Timely diagnosis is very important. Dehydration causes risk for obstruction caused by a blood clot, infections, kidney stones and obstipation (severe constipation), which can lead to bowel rupture. Chances of developing dehydration increase when people —

  • Use five or more medications
  • Do not walk independently
  • Are unable to feed themselves
  • Have dementia
  • Have inexperienced caregivers​

DSPs play a crucial role in the prevention of dehydration when supporting people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. You can remind people to drink, and make sure that fluids are available for people they support. Here ae some practical tips you can use.

  • People who do not eat a full meal (where much fluid comes from) are at greater risk for dehydration. DSPs need to be aware of this. You can prompt people to drink water between meals.
  • Drinking water along with medications is a must. DSPs should monitor this.
  • If you support aging people, if they do not walk independently, take multiple medications, or have multiple disabilities, develop a plan with their clinical team for drinking enough water each day.
  • Make sure that people have drinks at snack time. Water is rarely a beverage of choice for people. Work to develop alternatives. For example, mixing ½ juice with ½ water or seltzer water is refreshing and tastes great.

This article was adapted and reprinted with permission from S. VanLare, (2018). Health tips: The importance of hydration. Rochester, NY: The Arc of Monroe.